Retired High Court justice Michael Kirby has said that online civil courts set up in Canada and those soon to be introduced in the UK addressed an immediate need to make justice more affordable to everyday people.
In a recent interview with the ABC’s Lateline last week, the retired judge described the high costs required to run Australian courts as a “Rolls-Royce system”.
“We've got to be looking for something a little bit down market, particularly for smaller claims,” Mr Kirby said.
“We cannot be satisfied with a system where many people just go away from civil or criminal cases feeling that they have had second-class justice or no justice at all because they couldn't afford to get to first base,” he said.
Mr Kirby’s views were backed by the president of the NSW Law Society, Pauline Wright, who said that the online court initiatives in Canada and the UK were a step in the right direction.
She noted that some Australian courts, such as the Land and Environment Court, were a good example of utilising electronic processes to help with more efficient filing of submissions.
“In Australia, at the moment, we’ve had courts like the Land and Environment Court that started quite early allowing online document filming and some preliminary case management being done online,” Ms Wright said.
“This is especially good for people in rural and remote areas of Australia where it’s harder to get to your lawyer and you’ve got long distances to travel,” she said.
Lawyers Weekly had previously interviewed Colin Rule, the founder of an online dispute resolution provider Modria, about the growing trend towards virtual courts around the world.
Mr Rule, who is also the architect behind the dispute resolution platforms of both eBay and PayPal, said that in addition to cost, online courts offered a solution to dealing with the huge volume of cases backlogged in the ordinary court system.
Justice systems are also gradually interfacing with online platforms to resolve disputes, not due to a collective willingness to transform, but rather because users expect it, Mr Rule suggested.
“When people see the kind of high-powered, well-designed, intuitive platforms being adopted [by the courts], they immediately get it because they’re using Facebook, Gmail and all those other services. And that is an extension of those types of capabilities into dispute resolution.
“It just feels like a really natural and intuitive way to solve problems that people couldn’t imagine 10 to 15 years ago,” he said.
According to the ABC, the online Canadian Civil Resolution Tribunal allows all submissions to be made electronically and means people do not have to appear in person in court. The completely online civil court was opened to handle disputes concerning strata apartment and small claims matters of less than $25,000.
“In Australia, we will see online solution courts for precisely the same reasons the developments are happening in the UK and Canada and elsewhere – because it’s just too costly,” Mr Kirby said.