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No rush for eBay-style justice

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 16/07/2015

Such are the checks and balances built into the justice system that it is possible for the person who is wronged to gain redress, even if that may take a considerable period of time
Such are the checks and balances built into the justice system that it is possible for the person who is wronged to gain redress, even if that may take a considerable period of time

The British system of justice is probably the most copied in the world. Many other countries have adopted similar principles to underpin their judicial systems, a strong indication of how it is seen as one of the fairest and most effective.

Of course, it is not perfect, and miscarriages of justice do occur. Yet such are the checks and balances built into the justice system that it is possible for the person who is wronged to gain redress, even if that may take a considerable period of time.

So it is with some trepidation that we should view proposals to establish a so-called eBay justice system in Northern Ireland. This would essentially be a cyber court system dealing with cases such as DIY divorces, child maintenance disputes and small compensation claims.

Stormont's justice committee is looking at the proposal, which has two main attractions - it would be cheaper than conventional court hearings and could also deliver a quicker system of justice.

At a time when the politicians and lawyers are at loggerheads over plans to cut our huge legal aid bill - one estimate puts it at £100m a year - any method of cutting the cost of justice merits examination.

While the cases which would be dealt with under the proposed system are at the lower end of the scale, it is nevertheless vital that those involved are given a fair and equal hearing.

How would cases be brought together for presentation online? Will cases be drawn up using legal assistance, or will the people involved have to present their own cases?

It should be a guiding principle of any justice system that a person should have adequate representation to ensure that their rights are properly articulated.

Laws are not set in stone and even systems of justice can evolve, but tampering with the fundamentals of the justice system is done at our peril. The justice committee is right to examine these radical proposals, but must not rush to judgment on their merit.

However, an innovation that allows police officers to take fingerprints on the street and check them against national databases can be judged as an aid to law and order. It allows officers to identify people - providing they have been fingerprinted before - and see if they have a criminal record or are on a wanted list. The mobile device, however, should not be used as an excuse to harass the usual suspects.

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