The Government has no plans to force litigants in family and other civil cases to exclusively use online courts, a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice has insisted.
Tory peer Lord Keen made the announcement in the House of Lords following attempts to amend the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill during its progress through the House.
The bill sets out the legal foundations for “online procedures in civil and family courts in England and Wales,” as well as employment and other tribunals.
Litigants will be able to conduct cases concerning assets of less than £25,000 at least partially online once the bill comes into force. Larger cases will follow at a later date.
Opposition peers tried to add a section making it clear that litigants still had the option to file paper documents and proceed with their cases offline.But this change was unnecessary, declared Lord Keen, because there were no plans to migrate such cases entirely online. Offline procedures would be treated equally he insisted.
“We want to be clear that users can expect an equity of service, regardless of whether they proceed with a digital approach or a written claim. Where different parties choose different channels, we will seamlessly join them together by means of a scanning and printing service, so users who want to send and receive papers will still have that choice – they will not need to resort to the online portal.”
The peer, a former barrister and the current Advocate General for Scotland, continued:
“… I offer my assurance that paper channels are still available and will be available under the Online Procedure Rules [defined by the Bill]. The bill will do nothing to remove them.”
The current draft of the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill is available here.
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