Remaking News of the Week: Richard Susskind’s Online Courts

Remaking News of the Week: Richard Susskind’s Online Courts features extracts from an early summary of Richard’s new jewel in the legal ecosystem. These are some of the central themes, fist carried in Legal Week. Early next year, I will publish my own review of Online Courts and the Future of Justice.

“Even in the world’s most advanced jurisdictions, most civil disputes cost too much, take too long,  processes are antiquated, and the whole business is unintelligible to those who are not lawyers. To make matters worse, legal aid has been drastically cut in most countries. In some court systems, there are staggering backlogs – 100 million cases in Brazil, 30 million in India. Worse, according to the OECD, less than 50% of people on earth live under the protection of the law. Inaccess to justice is now a global pandemic (emphasis added).

“This is not a challenge that can be met by a modest injection of funds or by streamlining a few inefficient and outmoded practices. Much more radical change is required. In his new book, Online Courts and the Future of Justice, Richard argues that the transformation can only be achieved through the use of technology. In an increasingly digital society, it now makes sense for much of the work of our public courts to be conducted online.”

Some highlights of Online Courts and the Future of Justice include:

A discussion of whether a court is a service or a place and the implications of thinking of courts as services as is occurring in sectors as disparate as banking and worship.

A call for a state-provided dispute management and resolution service delivered wholly online involving:

Online determination of cases by human judges, not in traditional courtrooms but with evidence and arguments submitted online with the judges’ decisions delivered via online platforms. While online judging is not universally appropriate, is well-suited to the disposal of the many low value disputes.

The second idea is more radical: technology that delivers more than judges’ decisions. For example, tools to help court users understand the law and the options available to them, guides to completing court forms, and self-help to formulate arguments and assemble evidence. Australia’s Immediation is an excellent example of just this. And there’s more: apps, smartphones, portals, messaging, video-calling, chatbots, livechats, webcasts to assist those who are not lawyers interact more easily with the courts.

An overview of of the online courts already operating on the UK, Canada, the US, China, Singapore and Australia. Richard reports the ‘levels of user satisfaction are remarkable, overwhelmingly regarded as more accessible, more convenient, and less costly than traditional court service’.

A vision of the future where artificial intelligence makes directions and decisions will be made by systems, not people. This is a distant prospect, but Richard argues ‘it is important that we start now to confront some of the ethical and social questions that will inevitably arise as our machines become much more capable’.


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