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Digital courtrooms continue to grow – tax appeal cases are next

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Spring 2018 will see the launch of online digital courtrooms for UK claimants, with tax appeal tribunal cases set to be the first to be offered this option. For the first time, claimants and their solicitors will be offered the option of ‘attending’ a court hearing online, using secure audio & video links delivered via a standardised internet platform, as opposed to having to turn up in person.

The new process – already becoming available for a range of divorce cases – is part of an overall £1bn Ministry of Justice (MOJ) modernisation programme for the UK court system, and is designed to give claimants more flexibility should they find it hard to get time off work or other family commitments to attend court in person. Video links are also already used in criminal law cases, in online hearings where defendants being detained in prison can attend remotely.

Initial online video hearings are scheduled to take place around Easter this year. However, there are concerns from the legal establishment; earlier this year, senior Judge Sir Brian Leveson ordered John Worboys, the serial sex attacker, to be bought in front of the court in person due to repeated failures in the video link technologu the previous day. In addition to concerns over the robustness of the technology, there are also widespread criticisms of the mass closure of courts throughout the UK over the past six years, including the sale of more than 220 magistrates, county and crown courts across England and Wales. Justice minister Lucy Frazer has said:

We are spending £1bn on transforming and modernising the justice system. Video hearings have the potential to improve access to justice and speed up cases…this pilot will provide important information – together with an increasing body of evidence from other countries – to drive innovation to make the wider system quicker, smarter and much more user-friendly”

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