Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland courts commit to going paper-free

Paper-free courts are planned in Northern Ireland as judges embrace the digital age.

Online dispute resolution and virtual or remote proceedings are among other developments, the judiciary disclosed.

Senior judges marked the beginning of the new legal year in Belfast.

Lord Justice Gillen said: "While we have signalled our clear commitment to becoming digital by default - which includes moving towards paperless courts, online dispute resolution and other forms of digital justice, such as virtual or remote proceedings - we recognise that the implementation of such reforms will require strategic patience and a need to progress on an incremental basis."

He said without fully using digital technology courts risked acquiescing to inferior solutions.

"But we must be realistic: technology is no more than a tool to enable us better to realise our commitment to due process, and as such due process must shape and limit the extent to which we can reform in the light of technology."

The concept of paperless courts is already being piloted in the Court of Appeal.

The senior judge added: "The full implementation of paperless courts may be something of a longer-term aspiration, given the significant cultural shift this will undoubtedly require, but this proof of concept pilot has already demonstrated that we should have the wherewithal to move towards 'paper light' courts in the reasonably near future."

The planned changes follow a two-year review of civil and family law.

Lord Justice Gillen added: "While many of the proposed changes in these reports will fall to the Northern Ireland judiciary to oversee and implement, many others will not.

"Some will require the agreement of ministers and may be subject to parliamentary processes.

"The most important change, however, is a cultural change so that the justice system of the future is seen, operated and perfected in a new light."

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan again highlighted lack of progress on dealing with the past.

He said: "A lack of resources has in particular constrained our ability to deal with the backlog of legacy inquests, for which I was made responsible nearly two years ago.

"It remains a source of deep frustration to me that I have still not received a response to the proposals I put forward over 18 months ago for dealing with the matters for which I have been given responsibility."

When he assumed the presidency of the coroners' courts in November 2015, there were 55 cases, involving 96 deaths, and since then two further legacy cases have been referred.

Four cases have been completed since then and findings are awaited in another three cases.

There are two cases currently at hearing and a further three cases are listed for hearing by the end of December.

Sir Declan added: "That leaves us with 45 cases, many of which are hugely complex and for which we have not had the resources to carry out the substantial preparatory work that will be required to allow these cases to progress to inquest.

"In the 2018 calendar year, we anticipate just one further inquest being heard."

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