Monday, 16 November saw the introduction of a new electronic working pilot scheme, allowing for various insolvency procedures to be commenced and continued by using the electronic filing system. The procedure was introduced as part of the Government’s £700m investment in the courts and tribunal service to implement plans to fully digitise the courts, moving to a new online system from the older paper based system.
After an initial trial run in the Technology and Construction Court, the scheme has been extended to include all Rolls Building Jurisdictions, i.e. the Technology and Construction Court along with the Chancery Division, the Commercial Court, the Mercantile Court and the Admiralty Court.
So what does the new electronic filing system entail? Key characteristics of the new scheme include:
- Parties will be able to issue proceedings and file documents online 24 hours a day, every day of the year, except where there is planned ‘down-time’
- Online payment facilities
- Electronic management of court documents by court staff
- Electronic presentation of court documents to judges and, where appropriate, to the public
- Trial bundles must continue to be filed with the court in paper format
- Existing insolvency proceedings that were not started using the electronic scheme can be continued using the new process
- Winding up petitions or bankruptcy petitions cannot be issued using the e-filing scheme.
While there are obvious advantages to the scheme’s introduction, such as modernising and reducing the cost of the filing process, every innovation inevitably has its drawbacks.
Critically, the use of electronic filing is not mandatory, leading to the prediction of the legal advisor to the High Court, Vannina Ettori that uptake of the system may be no more than 30%. The scheme is also expected to take many practitioners and parts of the court system by surprise, given the difference in approach.
Only time will tell whether the new scheme’s introduction will prove to be a success. Yet given the judiciary’s enthusiasm towards making technological advances in litigation, it seems to be only a matter of time before e-filing becomes compulsory.