In 2016, a £1billion reform programme was launched with a vision to ‘modernise and upgrade’ the justice system ‘so that it works even better for everyone, from judges to legal professionals, to witnesses, litigants and the vulnerable victims of crime.’
The programme concentrates on bringing digital technology into court. It is hoped that the family court, already leading the way, will increasingly move to a paperless environment where applications are issued online, and where both the court file and the hearing bundle are electronic.
The six projects included in the family reform programme, are:
- Divorce - Online divorce is now available to all members of the public and is being piloted for solicitors at present. A pilot for managing financial remedy orders by consent is underway.
- Probate - Online for personal applicants.
- Public Family - Submission of evidence and management of cases online.
- Adoption – Digitisation of the process in public and private cases.
- Court of Protection – Online application and case management.
- Private Family - Online application and case management.
The scope of the existing projects is limited but the feedback from courts and users to date is generally positive. All projects should be completed by 2022. Over the next 18 months, HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) will: implement online financial settlement by consent; pilot contested financial proceedings online and extend online management of adoption, court of protection and private family law cases online.
This will not replace paper systems which will remain available for those who prefer, but with the aim that the online systems will be accessible and intuitive to use for all.
Having had a preview of the format, the interface is easy to use. There are guidance features along the way, but these do not, and cannot, give advice to the user about their case.
The Nockolds family team is taking part in the solicitors’ pilot for online divorce and are feeding back on improvements to usability and process. They are also able to offer online divorce to their clients, which is a significantly faster process that the previous paper system.