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The President envisages a digitised and paperless family court within four years

Digital on-line divorce planned for initial implementation in early 2017

In his speech to the Family Law Bar Association the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has said that an 'entirely digitised and paperless [family] court' can and must be achieved in the next four years.

The President noted that more and more courts are using eFiles in the court office and eBundles in the court room.

But, he said:

"We still have a long way to go to the entirely digitised and paperless court of the future, though this is – must be – a vision not of some distant future but of what has to be, and I believe can be, achieved over the next four years of the Courts Modernisation Programme. ... It is a very tight timetable. It is a visionary programme of ambition unprecedented anywhere in the world. But it can be done; it must be done; it will be done."

Sir James acknowledged that applicants will increasingly be lay persons bereft of professional assistance.

He added:

"[They] will not fill in an on-line application form but an on-line questionnaire capturing all the relevant information while at the same time being much more user-friendly. Some processes will be almost entirely digitised: early examples will be digital on-line probate and digital on-line divorce, both planned for at least initial implementation early in 2017. Some proceedings will be conducted almost entirely on-line, even down to and including the final hearing. The judge, who will not need to be in a courtroom, will interact electronically with the parties and, if they have them, their legal representatives. The heaviest cases will of course continue to require the traditional gathering of everyone together in a court room, though probably only for the final hearing and any really significant interim hearings. The other hearings in such cases will increasingly be conducted over what we quaintly continue to call video links – though I earnestly hope using equipment much better than the elderly and inadequate kit to which we are at present condemned.

"The digital court of the future with its large population of unrepresented litigants will demand other radical changes to what at present seems so important and so deeply entrenched in our professional cultures. We need an entirely new set of rules; indeed, an entirely new and radical approach to how we formulate court rules."

The President said that the digital revolution would enable a radical revision of both court forms and court orders.

He encouraged practitioners to embrace with enthusiasm new, and where appropriate different, working practices.

The speech can be read in full here.