Active case management will be the norm rather than the exception; hearings conducted remotely will be routine; and digital evidence, within digital processes, will help provide justice more directly, effectively and efficiently.
These were the concluding predictions for “The 21st Century Court”, the title of the Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association annual lecture for 2016, delivered on Friday by Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk.
Lady Dorrian began by encouraging her audience as those who were able to “use their imagination and creativity to make the best use” of the opportunities presented by the changes taking place within the profession, as set out in her address to the Law Society of Scotland’s annual conference. She hoped that the modernisation of court structures and practices would assist them in achieving that.
The new court structure now in place, she suggested, was one fit for 21st century Scotland, and with the efforts to eliminate backlogs and put digital systems in place, the courts were “in a position that would have been unimaginable even five years ago”.
However it was also necessary now to develop “21st century attitudes” appropriate to the new courts, and these had to apply specifically to greater use of technology, and enhanced case management.
A justice system that met the requirements of society in years to come, she continued, would be “truly accessible to all”, with digital innovation allowing transparency of proceedings, and easier participation with round the clock availability – such as the automated fine payment system which had collected £1.2m within its first year.
“Certainly, the medium to long term aim is to proceed to wholly electronic processes in all courts and at all levels”, Lady Dorrian declared, after describing the case management system for the new simple procedure.
After rehearsing the progress towards the primary reliance on digitally recorded evidence in court, the Lord Justice Clerk turned to enhanced case management. “Maximum participation and engagement is to be expected from every party in every litigation, under the control of the judge, so that procedural hearings are minimised but made highly effective”, she stated. “This is the practice which is adopted in the commercial court, and it is designed to improve the speed and efficiency of litigation.”
It involved the court having the powers to identify the scope for agreement on any aspect of a case, and to maximise the efficiency also of any evidential hearings.
Regarding hearings by video or teleconference, however, she acknowledged “that there are some issues in certain areas with the availability of private communication between agent and client: these issues must be resolved if we are to move forward with greater use of technology like this”.
Such developments also had to “go hand in hand with the development and implementation of a digital evidence and information vault”, to overcome the difficulties at present of storing and sharing physical evidence in its many forms.
"The Lord President and colleagues across the judiciary are determined to see the justice system keep pace with modern society and technology; to find ways to improve the quality of justice across the country; and to ensure all those who take part in the system are treated fairly and properly”, Lady Dorrian concluded. “That is in recognition of the fact that courts reform is never complete… The legacy of my generation, when it comes to pass control to yours, will be a modern system which is fair, efficient and cost effective, but also one which is nimble and ready to adapt to the future expectations of society.”