Claire McNamara, head of LDR know-how, Berwin Leighton Paisner:
Although much has been written about the proposed reforms to the civil litigation system, in many ways we remain slightly in the dark about how the changes, once implemented, will work in practice. In terms of how IT will assist in this, until the thirteenth lecture in LJ Jackson’s series of lectures aimed at explaining the reforms and the thinking behind them, we had heard little.
Jackson LJ’s thirteenth lecture
The role of IT was the focus of the thirteenth lecture and, from what I have read, a “Brave New World” awaits. However, I couldn’t help wondering:
- Are the aims realistic or merely aspirational?
- Where timescales are mentioned, are they achievable?
- How do the proposed initiatives fit in with existing systems governing e-working?
- And last, but not least, how will these IT changes impact on court users and practitioners?
Before I go any further I must first say that I am in total support of a world where we will have access to TCC-specific automated directions and electronic monitoring to ensure compliance with court ordered deadlines. In previous blogs I have already expressed my view that the likes of e-working and cost management are a welcome addition to TCC procedure.
The trouble is, while the intentions are good, the logistics seem off the scale. Set against the backdrop of the disappointingly low uptake and progress of e-working, highlighted again recently by the misplaced hope that the move to the Rolls Building and the complete overhaul of the county court system would bring us much closer to an integrated court IT system, surely we are right to be concerned.
Jackson LJ hopes that many of the new IT solutions will be in place by April 2013. This is when, we are told, the cost management pilot in the TCC will be rolled out generally and when the stricter measures to ensure compliance with court orders will be implemented.
It is less clear when we will have our automated TCC directions together with the new format bill of costs. And that is the problem. Unfortunately, because the task is so formidable, the approach seems to be that the IT solutions have been and will continue to be developed through separate projects and initiatives. We still have to master online payment to make e-working properly workable and the county court seems to have shied away, at least for the time being, from adopting the high court’s e-working system.
It is hoped, but as yet unclear, that the intended system for automated directions and monitoring compliance will form part of the system that we already have for e-working. One integrated court system is the only way to persuade users that they are truly getting a better service.
Similar issues arise in relation to cost management and bills of costs. We already have, through the pilot, Form HB. We are now told that a new “budget form” is under development. LJ Jackson states that “many solicitors now use cost budgeting software” (though he gives no clues as to whether this simply means excel spreadsheets or something more sophisticated). He suggests that this software will need to be further developed so that it can readily be used to complete the new budget form.
- Does this mean the time and effort spent by law firms developing systems to meet the requirements of Form HB will be in vain?
- Whose responsibility will it be to develop this software?
- Will it form part of the “new software required to produce the new format bill of costs”? (Paragraph 5.6 of the paper refers to new software that might be developed by the court in conjunction with a form of law costs consultants.) If not, will that result in more wasted efforts further down the line, given LJ Jackson’s long term aim that “consideration should be given to developing a single software system which can generate both cost budgets and bills of costs”?
The bigger picture
The task of putting in place a fully integrated court IT system should not be underestimated but we know that it can be done. Other jurisdictions have achieved this and now it is our turn. My hope is that, in developing the necessary IT to support the forthcoming procedural changes, the focus remains on the whole IT solution and that each step is a way to achieve this.