Would an Online Court of Law Be a Good Idea?

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?

onlinecourt-anonymity

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.

onlinecourt-gavel

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!

4 comments

  1. Internet is NOT the universal answer to all of humanities’s ills. The veracity, as well as the identities, of all the case participants are hard enough to establish beyond a shadow of a doubt in the current courts. How can it be established when everybody can have a different personality every day of the week? How will the chain of evidence be maintained using the Internet? As it is, the defense lawyers constantly find novel grounds on which to file appeals. If the cases were to be tried on the Internet, the grounds for appeals would explode like the Big Bang and I doubt that many defendants would be successfully convicted. I’m sure there are better and more useful justice reforms that can be implemented than Internet court.

    “the establishment of an online court for claims totaling up to 25,000 British pounds.”
    That is nothing more than changing the monetary limits of claims to be brought before the Small Claims Court. It may be a good idea but the Internet should be left out of the picture.

    • In the end, I think a secure video conferencing platform might be used to facilitate online court sessions. That is still exploitable, but at least people can see each other, read body language, and put human faces on the people making their case.

    • The same way they do it in real life: ineffectively to an extraordinary degree.

      But perhaps you are asking about standards of evidence. I believe that the most practical way to approach this is to maintain current rules on admissibility. That obviously means that evidence will have to be original material sent to the court itself for in-house review and for the deliberation process. It’s a bit of a hoop to jump through, but it’s possible (although online courts aren’t the smartest idea—at least in my opinion—anyway).

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