Courts 2.0: An Update on the Growth of Online Courts in the EU

By Irene Ng (Huang Ying)

In the past two years, the EU and its member states have been developing online dispute resolution (“ODR”) mechanisms to allow its citizens to resolve disputes faster and in a more cost-effective manner. The EU has launched its very first ODR platform back in February 2016 that is dedicated to helping “consumers and traders resolve their disputes out-of-court”.

The acceptance and use of ODR by the EU shed a light on how technology can facilitate dispute resolution in various ways. Instead of discussing how there are different forms of ODR within EU member states, this short article intends to focus on how EU member states have tried to revolutionize their court systems with technology, i.e. the creation of an online court.

The idea of such an “online court” is not novel. Much earlier in February 2015, the UK Courts and Tribunals Judiciary’s Online Dispute Resolution Advisory Group released an ODR Report advocating for Online Dispute Resolution for low value civil claims, i.e. claims of up to GBP 25,000. This online court dealing with small claims is intended to combat the existing system, which has been criticized as being “too costly, too slow, and too complex, especially for litigants in person” (see here). The report then suggested that a new “Internet-based court service” be established”, which will allow disputes to be brought to a “speedy, fair conclusion without the involvement of judges” (see here).

Talks about the development of an online court system remain relatively quiet. One noteworthy development in the EU, however, is the Dutch’s integrated legal services platform, i.e. the Rechtwijzer 2.0, an “online-base dispute resolution platform that supports people throughout their justice journey” (see here). Although technically not a court system in itself, the embracement of using technology as a means of resolving disputes may help build a person’s comfort level in using Internet-based courts, thereby paving the way for more EU members to call for such court systems.

When thinking about online courts, turning to other non-governmental companies or institutions for inspiration on cost-effective dispute resolution methods that can be implemented within courts may be interesting. For instance, companies such as eBay and Modria have ODR systems in place to handle disputes between buyers and sellers. While eBay and Modria do not technically provide a “court” environment to litigate disputes, they have however aggregated much experience over the years to allow effective dispute resolution services without a human judge. This goal is similar to what the UK has in mind when discussing about how the small claims court should be reformed. If so, then it may be worthwhile for courts to explore how these companies develop effective and robust systems to deal with such voluminous small claims, so as to implant them in their court systems to improve efficiency.

However, it appears that the development of online courts seems to be targeted towards courts handling voluminous amounts of small claims. For other courts, the development of a fully Internet based court seems to be less of a priority at the present moment – yet it should be worth noting that across the EU, courts in different EU member states are slowly integrating technology within the court. For instance, in Germany, the German courts developed an “electronic legal proceedings” system, which intends to promote planning certainty in legal proceedings for all parties involved. This project has been implemented in a variety of ways in the different states in Germany (see Eletronischer Rechtsverkehr).  Similarly, the Slovenia courts have allowed attorneys who intend to commence a lawsuit can do so using an online portal (see Portal e-Sodstvo). With the expansion of other litigation services such as eDiscovery, it will not be surprising to see courts in EU member states modernizing or revamping documentation processes as well.

The greater growth and acceptance of online services may result in EU citizens becoming more comfortable with online legal services, including the use of online courts to resolve disputes. Whether technology becomes sophisticated enough for complex cases in court remains however to be seen – although with enough investment in such technologies across a span of time, online or semi-integrated online courts for all levels of the court hierarchy may become a reality some day.