The introduction of the online court comes as the government tries to make the justice system faster, easier, and more accessible to broader segments of the community. The government has estimated that moving the court process online will reduce travelling and waiting time in relation to court appearances that sometimes last for just a few minutes. It is part of the NSW government’s Justice Online project, which allows lawyers to file documents in NSW Local, District and Supreme Courts online and outside registry hours.
The 2015 trial follows a previous pilot at the Downing Centre that took place in 2011 and 2012, which covered criminal cases. The 2011–12 pilot program involved committal proceedings for legally represented defendants charged with indictable offences, and enabled magistrates and legal practitioners to carry out intermediate procedural steps taken in committal proceedings via a web-based message board system. The criminal online court trial received a largely positive response from users, particularly in relation to increased levels of efficiency and flexibility for the parties.
Following this criminal trial, the NSW government has been conducting mock trials of online courts for civil matters with lawyers, and has again received positive feedback in relation to increased flexibility and efficiency. Once the online Downing Centre Local Court pilot has been evaluated, it is anticipated that the online court will be rolled out to other courts, and to criminal matters.
ELYSE METHVEN teaches law at the University of Technology Sydney.