Civil Litigation Reforms 2022 – The Online Dispute Resolution System

This is the third and final article this year on reforms to civil procedure where we will outline the Court’s expanding use of online case management systems.  

The digitisation of County Court processes has been evolving over several years. While the Damages Claims Portal (the Portal) has been described as a “pilot” since 4 April 2022, it has been mandatory for ‘damages only’ claims to be issued digitally by firms.

What this has meant is that many firms have registered with the ‘My HMCTS’ website and downloaded their online case management tool. The portal mirrors forms that you will be familiar with from your studies on the Diploma - the Claim Form, the Acknowledgement of Service and Directions Questionnaire. The only real difference is that these will now be processed digitally rather than by paper. Specific Civil Litigation tasks that you can now deal with using the portal include:

•               Uploading Claim Forms and Particulars of Claim.

•               Filing Acknowledgments of Service and Defences.

•               Requesting extensions of time to file a Defence.

•               Filing of Directions Questionnaires.

•               Receiving initial case management and hearing information.

Ultimately, it is likely that the system will be expanded to allow all aspects of a claim to be dealt with (except for attending hearings of course). This would also include pre-litigation steps such as ADR and other steps required by pre-action protocols. 

The portal can also currently be used for unspecified County Court claims including:

•               Claims for personal injury.

•               Road traffic accidents.

•               Work accidents.

•               Public liability accidents.

•               Holiday illness claims.

•               Disease claims.

•               Clinical negligence.

•               Professional negligence.

•               Breach of contract.

Despite this wide range of issues, there are currently several exceptions when the portal cannot be used, including where:

•               A person represents themselves (a litigant in person).

•               A claim involves multi parties.

•               A claim involves damages and an injunction.

•               The claims are made under parts of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

•               The claims are by or against the Crown, protected parties or children.

•               The claims are where defendants live outside England and Wales.

Despite these limitations, 2022 seems to be the year when digital justice will become a reality for many civil claims. It is also interesting to note what the Master of the Rolls, Sir Geoffrey Vos, said in March in a speech to the Society of Computers and Law. He suggested that online digital justice would also be rolled out to family and tribunals disputes by the mid-2020s. This is not idle speculation. The Court Service have already confirmed that their aim is to eventually have all claims issued via one joint portal. The current system already allows matters involving immigration and asylum appeals, probate, and some aspects of family matters such as divorce and financial remedies to be dealt with digitally. 

We will no doubt return to the issue of digitisation on in future articles as these changes will eventually affect all areas where the court proceeding is necessary.   

Article written by Seamus Ryan