Dear President, Director General
I am contacting you to ask you to ensure that the Law Society does all it can to encourage the Courts Service to introduce as a matter of the utmost urgency a system of electronic filing of documents, in particular for issuing new proceedings.
This needs to happen as soon as possible since it looks very likely that we are going to go into a state of severe lock-down within weeks if not days. The staff in the High Court Central Office and presumably other court offices are already being put in a compromising position in terms of their own health and that of the community by being forced to operate a public counter for filings of physical documents. I can see no need for this when we have electronic systems that can be used just as easily.
While there is a drop-box system in the High Court and the usual system of postal filing there are a several issues with this.
First a drop-box or postal filing requires a visit to a post office or court office which are public places. This is incompatible with the idea that we should avoid all unnecessary contact with others.
Second there is no guarantee in relation to deadlines or a way to use this system for more urgent filings (e.g. where there is a statute of limitations or a court direction). If there is a defect in a document there is no way to correct it and keep the filing date.
Third most documents still require physical stamping and signing. Paying stamp duty for most practitioners requires a visit to a court office because a physical stamp is required. There are similar issues with the requirement for an in-person witness to affidavits.
I am asking you as the leaders of our profession to ensure that we can still operate if and when there is a total lock down.
The following measures (at a minimum) can and should be put in place as soon as possible:
- Requirement for a physical stamping of documents to be waived and ideally all court fees waived for the duration of the crisis
- Requirement for in-person swearing of affidavits to be waived – a statement of truth signed electronically by the deponent to suffice.
- Proceedings may be initiated by filing papers using electronic means , e.g. by email, with confirmation of record number, return date etc by email or phone within one working day.
- Rules permitting service by email and/or download link as default
- Courts service to guarantee service levels in terms of turn around time, call back etc.
For all concerned these measures are urgently needed to protect our health, those of Courts Service officials and the wider community. For many practitioners these measures could be crucial to the survival of their firms.
I am therefore asking for you to commit to working with the Courts Service to put in place a fully electronic filing system as quickly as possible.
We have the technology, we just need the will to do it.