Write your search here
  • FAQs
  • Claim Journey
  • Serious Injury
  • INK

Court Digitisation Programme – What is the impact on the claims process?

Daniel Bates

As part of the court digitisation programme, Minster Law has been the only claimant law firm invited to provide feedback on the newest upcoming features of the Damages Claims Portal. Daniel Bates, Serious Injury Solicitor and Legal Policy Advisor for ACSO, is one of our technical leads on the roll out of this new digital process and provides an update on the progress and what it means for the claims process in his latest blog.

A wholescale court digitisation programme was launched in 2016 with aims to modernise the justice system and provide a platform for a just, proportionate, and accessible avenue for dispute resolution. The idea is to correct the previous over reliance on post, email, and telephone correspondence, which is often unreliable, lacks security and is bad for the environment, and to create online portals that would form a one-stop shop for court litigation. We are only some of the way along that process.

Many areas of law have been successfully overhauled in this way, such as in conveyancing and divorce proceedings. In civil justice, however, the reform programme effected very little change in the early years, at least for our purposes.

In the last couple of years, the programme has drastically changed the way that legal representatives handle court litigation for customers, and these changes are continuing to stretch along the claims journey.

While the impetus remains for us to reach satisfactory outcomes on our cases without the need for judicial intervention, as our ADR initiatives in fast track damages disputes show, sometimes court proceedings are unavoidable.

The portal most relevant to our cases is the ‘Damages Claims Portal’ (‘the DCP’), a system of mandatory use for many claims that need to be issued to the County Court (1v2 or 2v1 cases that are eligible under CPR PD 51ZB (1.6)), which is the majority of personal injury cases. The DCP presently facilitates:

  1. The issuing of court proceedings
  2. The service of those proceedings on third party representatives
  3. The third party responding to those proceedings with a defence, or the filing of a request for default judgment
  4. The filing of a reply to a defence
  5. All parties completing directions questionnaires and proposed directions to suggest how the case should progress through proceedings
  6. The court providing a Standard Directions Order (fast track only)

It is presently at this point that the case will fall from the DCP and proceed ‘on paper’, i.e. through the legacy service.

What does this mean for our claims processes?

The DCP is already proving beneficial for our customer journeys in allowing for a near-instant issue of proceedings (formerly dependant on the mail service and/or email inbox backlogs) and, in many cases, saving many months between the issue of proceedings and our receipt of directions from the court (a process where the court provide a list of deadlines to which we must adhere to ensure that the case is being managed appropriately). In short, the DCP is speeding up the process for those cases where litigation has been necessary.

It also provides peace of mind from data protection and environmental standpoints, reducing the risks associated with mail delivery and reducing our need to use paper. These changes help with efficiency and can lead to a reduction in operational expenses, and therefore customer legal costs, for a case.

However, the court systems we are dealing with are in transition and we therefore need to be agile with our processes and planning for court litigation.

Inevitably, there are niggles and issues that may arise from time to time with a system as new and complex as this. There have recently been some examples of technical glitches with the DCP, for example, where proceedings were unexpectedly not issued for a few days or payment was not taken from our accounts. These have all seen speedy resolution, but it is something to be mindful of as the system beds in. We are taking the initiative to collaborate regularly with our contemporaries, ensuring that each problem is identified at the earliest possible opportunity and to agree strategies for resolution as a claimant representative community. We are similarly taking advantage of our strong relationships with defendant representatives to agree the smoothest possible outcomes for our clients despite the experienced turbulence with the new systems.

The portal is presently inflexible when it comes to changing the details of a case after court proceedings have been brought, which very often leads to the case dropping from the DCP and falling back into the traditional, and often slower, court process. Our processes are ensuring this effect is mitigated by progressing cases quickly, and issuing proceedings in most cases only when we have the best possible picture of that case, reducing the need for later detail changes.

There are, seemingly, weekly changes to the structure, rules, or guidance on DCP-captured claims, and so we have established an internal expert team to help consider, risk assess/manage and distribute guidance and process on any relevant changes. We have continued to remain vigilant and engaged, as the courts have so far afforded very little public notice of change (sometimes new functions have even been made live before sight of the function was distributed).

Overall, though, we are pleased to see progress with the digital reform programme, which is already boosting the speed of litigation and, therefore, the speed of lots of our cases. As an example, as of 16 October 2023, the Civil National Business Centre (CNBC) are taking 10 days to process and issue a claim on paper, but issuing online is usually instantaneous. Similarly, acknowledgements of service on paper are taking 11 working days to process, 16 working days in the case of a defence on paper and 29 working days for a judgment to be entered on paper.[1] All of these are automated on the DCP, and the admin times alone are adding up to significant time savings. While these time savings are currently only experienced in the initial phases of litigation (for the claims that are eligible) the hope is that a similar effect is experienced as each further function is added to the DCP.

In theory, a full digital process should also assist with better court data collection and publication for analysis, more detailed and less manual record keeping on the claim journey for each case, more accessibility options for vulnerable clients, connectivity between our systems and the court systems to allow for further process streamlining and increased digital dexterity, allowing for greater innovation to tap into the new digital journey.

Because of this, we want to see fast progress with more cases staying in the DCP (which will require additional functionality for the live service) and for cases to stay in the process for longer (which will require the DCP being stretched further along the line of the claims journey, towards trial). In ways explained below, we have taken the initiative and positioned ourselves as a claimant representative that is trusted and valued by the HMCTS digitisation team, and in so doing, to be influential in the DCP reaching its potential.

What’s next?

In relation to the next phases of the DCP, the persistent aim of the Ministry of Justice is for the portal system to provide an ‘issue to trial’ capability by April 2024. Potentially, this should help a claim to run more efficiently with the courts by circumventing some of the civil court delays that are so drastically impacting the speed of access to justice, and should, therefore, help us to reach a just and proportionate outcome more quickly.

Inevitably, though, creating an online system that will effectively and efficiently facilitate many thousands of civil disputes is no mean feat, and so Minster is proud to be the only claimant representative firm to be a part of the Advance User Testing Group for the next phases of the DCP. This role helps us to provide feedback to the courts before implementation, hopefully leading to a more rounded and effective roll out of the further phases, and to gain insight to help us plan for any changes that might impact our current and future cases. The Group are currently assisting the courts to assess the development of functions to allow the parties to exchange evidence, such as medical evidence and witness statements, and for a court bundle to be prepared from that evidence. In addition, we have established ourselves as a go-to trusted law firm for the digitisation team, assisting HMCTS with ad hoc sessions for feedback and testing and having had many collaborative meetings with project leaders, strategists and technicians.

We have also leaned into our association as a founding member of the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO), a civil justice trade body whose primary aim is to ensure the improvement and sustainability of access to justice.  Through their DCP Working Group, we continue to provide live feedback to His Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service, the Ministry of Justice, the Civil Procedure Rules Committee, and the Online Procedure Rules Committee to help raise problems with the live service and help ensure that the core objectives of the digitisation programme are met. Minster Law is also proud to be the only member to provide two part-time secondees to ACSO, including a permanent Legal Policy Advisor, as we recognise the crucial work they do for consumers and for the sector in general.

Furthermore, we are using our knowledge and insights on digital platforms to transform the way that we work. E-signatures are reducing our reliance paper. New claims processes are smoothing our claims journey through to the DCP. Knowledge sharing, internally, through training and an in-house team of portal champions is ensuring that every file handler is fully equipped to progress a case for the customer in the most progressive, cutting-edge way.

Overall, digital litigation should help to turbocharge cases through the court process and free our clients to safely choose judicial intervention as a good option for dispute resolution once again. Our ever-strong relationship with HMCTS and as a lead in the trade body working group for ACSO will ensure that we are best placed to prepare and benefit from change, influence necessary alterations to additional functionality before it impacts our clients and provide key insights to our partners on the future of litigation.

[1] HM Courts & Tribunal Service: Weekly Performance National Business Centre: updated 16 October 2023