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The Right Honourable Sir Geoffrey Vos describes his Keynote Speech at LIDW 2021 as optimistic

At London International Disputes Week, the Right Hon. Sir Geoffrey Vos announces that his message on the future of the court process is an “optimistic one”.

Messages of a fully online court, the use of artificial intelligence and a harmonised online dispute resolution process for all kinds of civil (and hopefully family and tribunal) disputes were revealed.

Introduction

The theme of this year’s LIDW is “looking forward: challenge, change and opportunity” and the Right Hon. Sir Geoffrey Vos’s focus is very much on post-Covid recovery and what the justice systems will look like in the coming years and decades. In his 2019 LIDW speech he announced that there were three interconnected developments to focus on (1) developing online courts for dispute resolution in several specific areas; (2) determining how to improve the main-stream court-based business dispute resolution processes to better service the national and international business litigants; and (3) production of a dedicated and expedited dispute resolution process for issues arising from smart legal contracts. He made clear in today’s speech that focus was to continue with these three aims.

Online Justice

The Right Hon. Sir Geoffrey Vos explained his commitment to a wholly new on-line court system for dispute resolution for civil, family and tribunal disputes, the associated benefits being (1) it satisfies businesspeople and consumers expectation; (2) it allows the use of artificial intelligence and smart programming to suggest (not determine) resolutions; and (3) it enables a single data set for each dispute to be created thereby reducing the reliance on paper documents.

In his speech he described the vision for the future which included a requirement that the industry provide mechanisms for pre-court dispute resolution using a range of sector specific portals dedicated to resolving disputes. These would be created and operated by the industry itself rather than the courts and regulation and accreditation would provide the much-needed cohesion and integration which is lacking with the current systems.

He predicted that this will hugely increase access to justice, promote public confidence in the justice system and it will create a dispute resolution system that will give confidence to overseas investors, which in turn will allow solicitors and barristers to concentrate on those cases that are not straightforward and cannot be easily resolved.

Business Dispute resolution

“It is all about how best to facilitate speedy cost-effective resolution” he said.  Focus was placed on what has been learned from the small claims online justice system which has been addressing dispute resolution differently. There would be the use of decision trees and mechanism rather than pleadings to define the real issues more quickly. Instead of it being dependent on a staged trial event there would be more focus on resolving issues as they are identified on an interim rolling basis. A variety of approaches to alternative dispute resolution would be available, for example, early neutral resolution, formal mediated interventions, or on-screen algorithms suggesting solutions to points of dispute as and when they materialise.

The Right Hon. Sir Geoffrey Vos explained how it would be about facilitating speedy cost-effective resolution and he recognised the need for the judiciary to set the standards and principles by which online dispute resolution would be governed.

The types of disputes that will need to be resolved in the future.

Predictions that business is changing as the digital revolution in commercial life gets closer were made, and how this  will alter how disputes are resolved was explained. One example given in today’s speech was the use of on chain smart contracts. The Right Hon. Sir Geoffrey Vos commented that there has been up to now a lack of a universally accepted approach to digitalisation of commercial and legal documentation and that this is something that is now technically feasible given that there are many excellent projects in progress. He expressed his excitement at how  the recent publication of the UK Jurisdiction Taskforce’s Digital Dispute Resolution Rules, which provided for arbitral or expert dispute resolution in very short periods, had been well received internationally.

Summary

A paper-based dispute resolution process will not be satisfactory in the new era. The expectation is that a large number of cases will start online and be resolved by integrated ADR mechanisms leaving just a few to enter the court system, thereby transforming access to justice. Disputes will change and will become more digitally based.  The hope is that during the current digital revolution, the Courts of England And Wales will lead the way by setting a good technological example internationally.

The Right Hon. Sir Geoffrey Vos says that we must be ready for the changes that are around the corner.

Sue Fox is the Head of Costs Management at A & M Bacon. You can contact her on 01733 359036, or by email Sue.Fox@aandmbacon.co.uk

Published 11.05.21

 

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