This article focuses on the speech of Lord Hodge, Deputy President of the Supreme that took place on 10/03/2020 about the Technology and the Law. Lord Hodge aptly explained that:
“The legal profession is having to adapt to technological advances…… In the traditional model on which we rely, legal advice is crafted by lawyers and delivers on a one-to-one basis. Trials take place in a courtroom where procedure is formal and sometimes difficult for the parties to comprehend”.
He then went on to comment that:
the courts in England and Wales are embracing a variety of initiatives, including e-filing, computer – assisted transcription, document display systems, electronic presentation of evidence and the examination of witnesses by video link to protect the vulnerable and to enable witnesses located overseas or at a great distance to contribute to the forensic process without travelling to the court.
If we had read about the above initiatives prior to the Covid19-pandemic, when the justice system in Cyprus was operating “normally”, we may not have taken them seriously into account. Today though, as a result of these unprecedented consequences that everyone is trying to adapt, the above initiatives are enviable, taking into account that the justice system in Cyprus is paralyzed as of 16/3/2020, when the regulations of the Supreme Court of Cyprus were announced pursuant to which the operation of the Courts’ operation has been suspended until 30/4/2020.
Unsurpsingly though, in England they proposed a new “Online Solutions Court” for cases of value up to £25,000, which as Lord Hodge explains “it provides the opportunity to use modern IT to create for the first time a court which will enable civil disputes of modest value and complexity to be justly resolved without the incurring of the disproportionate cost of legal representation…..the most important technology underpinning the proposed Online Solutions Court is online triage. In the context of a civil claim, online triage would enable the court to probe the claimant’s case by automatically presenting successive questions which are determined by the claimant’s answers, so as to convert a convoluted grievance into a legal claim. Online triage would reduce the time – consuming process of returning incomplete forms, and it could be utilised to enable court users to communicate directly with the court about simple claims and replace the complicated procedural rule book”.
What is more, it is well noted that in England for many years the Supreme Court’s proceedings have been live streamed, a proceeding which allowed not only the legal advisors but also the clients to be involved in the case and to stay abreast of the developments. Even more interesting is the fact that in England they are now conducting some appeal hearings in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council by video link, while in a previous case when a judge had to be absent from the hearing, for health reasons, the case was not postponed – as would have been the case in Cyprus – but was conducted electronically, and the judge was able to follow the proceeding from home and take part in the determination of the appeal.
More recently and despite the pandemic, a hearing before the Court of Protection in London, in which Mr. Justice Mostyn was asked to decide whether it was in the benefit of a 70-year-old man to have the clinically assisted nutrition and hydration he receives through a tube, withdrawn, was conducted entirely through Skype for Business. As a matter of fact, the Judge, the lawyers, 11 witnesses, 3 experts and 2 journalists, had joined the three-day hearing online and at the end of the procedure the barrister representing the man’s GP, told that: ‘It was very effective, and allowed for full and fair participation by all parties, using a laptop from their home or office’ and that ‘It’s a necessary step – it’s important for the rule of law to ensure the courts continue to function during this crisis.’ What is more, the barrister representing the CCG, said that: ‘It could be used as a model to keep the system going, keep justice accessible and to alleviate the anxiety of parties who otherwise might have to wait a long time for hearings to take place in court.’
Although the Cypriot legal system is based on the English Legal System and therefore the principles of common law and equity apply, despite the numerous discussions and debates on technology and the law, the competent bodies haven’t yet found the way to an e-justice tool which would have allowed nowadays:
• the electronic filing of cases,
• an easy way to swear a witness, without the need to attend the Court’s Registrar,
• the online payment of the stamps and/ or other disbursements,
• an easy access to the e- folders of the case in which you are involved,
• the proper conduct of hearings or even of the appearances for directions via video calls or telephone calls,
• an easy access to the transcripts of the case by the law firms involved.
All the above, would have enable the effective operation of the justice system in Cyprus and as a consequence law firms’ operation.
*As was published in www.vorkaslaw.com.cy