Something we keep saying here at Labrums – “The future is coming, get ready.” And if Sir James Munby's prediction is correct, divorce may be the next thing to become digitised.
The President of the Family Division told barristers that in future some court processes will be almost entirely digitised, citing online divorce and online probate as early examples. He said plans to digitise these proceedings could be initially
implemented by early 2017.
Munby predicts some cases would be conducted almost entirely online, with judges interacting electronically with parties and their legal representatives. While the heaviest cases will still require physical court cases, these would probably only be for the final hearing and for significant interim hearings.
"In times of austerity, and faced with ever-increasing numbers of litigants in person, we must constantly strive to improve, to streamline and to simplify the system.
“We cannot afford to be complacent or to imagine that there is not much that remains to be done – for otherwise unwelcome changes may be imposed on us from outside.”
Munby said that while recent progress in the court system has been rapid, with more courts using ‘eFiles’ and ‘eBundles’, there is still a long way to go.
An entirely paperless and digitised court 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.”
He said that in future applicants, who will often be unrepresented, will issue proceedings online through an online questionnaire which would capture all relevant information in a user-friendly way.
Karen Weiner, our Family Law Specialist feels it is inevitable that whatever processes that can be digitised will be to save costs.
She said: “As Labrums is already paperless and uses technology to communicate with clients and other professionals this will have limited impact. For firms that are less innovative however it will be another change they will have to cope with in an increasingly digitised society.”
However, Karen also stressed the importance of professional advice during such significant proceedings.
“I would always advise that a solicitor looks over the papers before divorce proceedings are issued – a mistake may not be picked up until the application for decree nisi and that can then cause delay and be expensive to rectify.”
“Clients should always seek advice on their financial circumstances even if they have no assets as the Decree Absolute ends the marriage but not financial claims.”
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