Digital systems could “revolutionise” family courts

The arrival of new technology promises to make family courts run far more efficiently, a senior Judge has said.

During a speech earlier this week, Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, welcomed the increasing use of computer systems.

In fact Sir James went as far as to suggest that the introduction of electronic documents could do even more to transform the legal process than the sweeping changes in the law implemented last year.

“At what stages in the process is human activity required?” he asked in a speech to the Family Law Bar Association. “There are only two: first, in deciding whether the pleaded facts, if true, amount, for example, to unreasonable behaviour; second, in pronouncing the decree in open court.

“Everything else can, in principle, be done electronically, at great savings of both time and cost.”

Digital diaries and the option to send documents via email are two of the improvements which he said had been made possible by digital systems.

And he expects that other parts of court proceedings could be automated in the course of the next couple of years. In fact, he made reference to a recent report by the Civil Justice Council which suggested that it may be appropriate in future to conduct some cases entirely online.

While some are concerned by the pace of change, and the occasional shortcomings of new technology, Sir James made the point that plenty had changed since he had entered the legal profession four decades ago.

“I merely remind those of you too young to remember those days, that when I first came into the law, over 40 years ago, legal ‘high-tech’ was the electric typewriter and the telex.

“There was no fax, no internet, no email, none of the electronic gadgets – the laptop, the iPad, the list is almost endless – which we now take for granted. Who can know what things will be like in the Family Court in 2050?”