The chairman of the Justice Select Committee believes digitisation and a focus on single access portals could be the next focus for the civil justice system

By Editor Katie Scott

The civil justice system has had a fair amount of airtime recently thanks to 2018’s Civil Liability Act and the onset of the whiplash reforms, which has so far culminated in part one rules – featuring the Official Injury Claim (OIC) portal – being launched in May this year.

Katie Scott_bw_path

Katie Scott

However, for Sir Bob Neil, chairman of the Justice Select Committee and member of parliament for Bromley and Chislehurst, civil justice is “nowhere near” high enough on the government’s agenda and is often “taken for granted”, despite the fact that it is directly relevant for the majority of day-to-day interactions.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO) and Kuro Health at the Palace of Westminster this month, Neil said: “They all pay lip service to it – every lord chancellor and every minister will talk about British justice being the envy of the world, but it’s taken for granted, the civil justice side.”

Public perception is a key stumbling block here, Neil admitted. The general public tend to focus on crime and criminal cases, rather than thinking about their own daily interactions – for example, their car being shunted, a personal injury claim, a slip or trip on a pavement that has not been maintained by a local council.

For him, this view has to change.

Neil predicts more reform within the civil justice sphere too, but not around legal procedures. He thinks the next batch of changes will centre “around digitisation rather than procedural reform” and that updates to the system will focus on technology and the creation of single entry point portals.

This type of work should attract greater urgency when considering how county courts operate post-pandemic – Neil explained that many of these still use paper-based systems and that their ability to conduct remote hearings is “variable”.

No doubt this has contributed to “woeful” court delays during the era of Covid-driven social distancing.

Proof of the pudding…

Neil, however, is pleased with the OIC portal’s implementation and use so far.

Initially, he confessed to being concerned about the portal’s potential impact on access to justice – in particular, his committee also held fears around “nefarious claims” and the “risk of claims management companies coming into the sector”.

However, Neil noted that these issues were taken into consideration as part of the portal’s production and that it has therefore “worked reasonably well so far”.

He added that settlement rates have remained consistent across the board and that claims management companies haven’t flooded the portal either, according to the Ministry of Justice’s latest stats.

But, Neil believes only time will truly tell how the OIC portal is working, as claims volumes are currently lower than expected due to the ongoing pandemic landscape and less cars are on the road in general.

“Some of the questions haven’t yet gone away and I think we need to keep a careful look on it as goes forward,” he added.

Although Neil hinted that digital transformation is the next check box on the civil justice system’s radar, we still have part two of the whiplash reforms to contend with, which surely must be a job for the new year.

However, I do agree with Neil – civil justice should not be overlooked, nor its role in everyday life, as I’m sure those who have made a claim themselves would agree. It may not be as glamourous as criminal cases, but the impact on genuine individual claimants is massive.