Here's a glimpse of change in the trappings of civil justice

Times (london)   September 11 1998
   Courts will sit in session on the Internet
   PEOPLE will resolve many legal disputes over the Internet from their
   homes, rather than going to court, under plans unveiled yesterday.
   Geoff Hoon, Minister of State at the Lord Chancellor's Department,
   outlined proposals that envisage "virtual" court hearings in which
   people can communicate with the judge and lawyers over the Internet
   via their television sets. Many of the traditional trappings of
   justice - including legal documents, books, papers and court hearings
   - are likely to disappear. The proposals put forward in the
   consultation paper, civil.justice, form the first draft of an
   information technology strategy for the next 15 years. Judges and
   lawyers will still be needed. But much routine legal work will be
   computerised and packaged as an online product, such as drafting
   standard contracts and agreements.
   The paper asks: "Is it the physical courtroom with associated
   trappings that is important to most people, or is it the confidence
   that their dispute is being addressed by an appropriate, impartial
   person?" Many more cases could be disposed of via "virtual" hearings
   that could be less daunting and more cost-effective for certain kinds
   of grievance, such as many tribunal claims. The paper suggests that
   people would obtain far more legal advice and information online than
   from lawyers, using computer kiosks or terminals in shopping malls and
   courts, and via the Internet.
   The paper suggests the creation of a website to act as an online civil
   justice service, a first port of call for anyone seeking information
   or advice on legal problems. Lawyers would also have to change the way
   they work, and move away from providing a high-cost advice service
   billed by the hour. Legal products for mass consumption would be
   developed online and legal services sold in high volume at lower
   The paper says that there is a large unmet need for legal services
   that might be better served by online legal services providing
   "affordable, jargon-free legal help at the fingertips of large numbers
   of clients across the World Wide Web."
   Responses to the paper are invited by December 18. The paper is on the
   department's website:

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