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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 create online portals that would form a one-stop shop for all court user’s needs.

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.

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

While we always aim to reach satisfactory outcomes on our cases without the need to attend court, sometimes court proceedings are unavoidable.  This can be for several reasons, such as reaching an impasse on any negotiations to agree as to who was responsible for the accident, the accident being a cause of the injuries as we allege, otherwise disputed medical evidence grounds, or on the right level of compensation that should be awarded in a case. Sometimes court litigation is necessary simply because your case is approaching its limitation date and there is more work or negotiations necessary to reach a settlement. In these circumstances, we will need to interact with the court, follow their issuing processes and this will now involve using the new digital portals.

The ‘Damages Claims Portal’ (‘the DCP’), a system of mandatory use for many claims that need to be issued to the County Court, is used for 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 and unrepresented parties
  3. The third party representative 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, and
  6. The court providing a Standard Directions Order (fast track only)

It is presently at this point, or on receipt of the court’s order with their standard list of directions, that the case will fall from the DCP and proceed ‘on paper’.

What does this mean for my claim?

The DCP is already proving beneficial for our customers 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 reduce our operational expenses, leading to a cost saving for our customers.

However, you will need to be aware that 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 arise from time to time with a system as new and complex as the DCP. There have recently been some instances of technical glitches with the portal, for example, where proceedings were not issued for a few days or payment was not taken from our accounts. These have all seen speedy resolution by the technical team at the court, but it is something to be mindful of as the system beds in.

The system is also inflexible when it comes to changing the details of a case after court proceedings have been brought but before they are served on the third party/parties, which very often leads to the case dropping from the DCP and falling back into the traditional, and often slower, court process. You should therefore be even more careful when checking court documents and providing your instructions to us that the details in the proceedings pack are accurate and a true account of your claim to the best of your knowledge.

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 your case. Because of this, we want to see more cases staying in the DCP (which will require additional functionality being added to 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).

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. In theory, this should help your claim 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 a part of the Advance User Testing Group for the next phases of the DCP. This role helps us provide feedback to the courts before implementation, hopefully leading to a more rounded and effective implementation of the further phases and gain insight to help us plan for any changes that might impact your case and future cases like it. 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. As it is implemented later this year, the Group will also be analysing the real-time practical results, and recommending alterations and solutions where any issues arise.

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. It is crucially important to access to justice that this reform programme is completed quickly and successfully, and we will continue to play our part in making that happen.