Courts in most countries are often very busy and expensive institutions, with some cases taking years to solve. Lawsuits themselves are ugly processes that often require large amounts of both capital and patience. Because of all of these factors, the decision to engage in court with someone has a heavy toll.
Towards the end of July 2016, UK Lord Justice Briggs put forth a proposal that included several justice reforms, one of which was the establishment of an online court for claims totaling up to 25,000 British pounds. Is this an ultimately beneficial proposal or an idea that would spell disaster for the country?
The Anonymous Elephant in The Room
Anyone who has spent more than fifteen minutes on the Internet can tell you that it’s full of usernames and avatars. Knowing a person’s true identity on the Web is rare, even when that person is well known. This is the reason many people decide to speak freely on the Web. There’s little to no real-life consequence in doing so. When you make an account on the Web, you’re rarely asked for your address. So, how would an online court address the anonymous nature of the Internet?
To properly identify a person in a court, the institution addressing the case needs to have veritable proof that the person is who he says he is. On the Internet it’s easy to say that you’re Johnny Martins, the home repair guy from Arkansas. This means that online courts will have to somehow verify each party’s identity and tie it to something they use on the Web. That could be done by making a person submit some form of ID and then their email address, binding the two and allowing the court to recognize the email address as a form of identification.
This opens up a whole new can of worms. What if your email address gets hacked? In cases where the media profile is high enough to get a hacker’s attention, you can bet that there will be lots of people trying to impersonate parties in this manner. If governments refuse to act on this threat, hackers will eventually refine their methods, making this a common occurrence.
Should Lawsuits Be So Easy?
The plan Lord Justice Briggs has in place would essentially make it easier for anyone to engage in a lawsuit without even hiring a lawyer for claims of up to 25,000 pounds sterling. It’s obvious that the goal here is to make lawsuits more accessible and easier to begin. But by doing this the government is creating the incentive for a more litigious culture. It may not happen, but the possibility is now present. On the other hand, making the court more accessible in this manner can be a net benefit for working class citizens who cannot readily afford an attorney. If people start suing more often, an online court will likely be just as overwhelmed as the higher courts.
Online courts present an alternative to the high-cost civil court system that’s currently in place in many nations. The caveat to this, of course, is that being connected to the Internet also carries risks that governments are often not keen to consider. Internet services by default open themselves up to attacks that grow in sophistication as time passes. Many large private sector companies have already succumbed to the wits of hackers, and I see this as a challenge that online courts will inevitably have to address.
What do you think of the idea of online litigation? Tell us in a comment!