The Electronic Working Pilot Scheme has been piloted at the TCC in London since July 2009. Has it been a success? PLC Construction attended an HMCS workshop to find out.
What is the e-Working service?
The Electronic Working Pilot Scheme was introduced as a supplementary practice direction to CPR 5.5. The pilot scheme is testing the viability of the HMCS “e-Working service”, which allows parties to file claims and subsequent documents electronically and receive sealed court forms via e-mail.
The pilot scheme is operating in the TCC and the Commercial Court. It has slightly limited functionality, although this is being extended gradually. As of September 2009, the pilot scheme in the TCC supports:
- Part 7 claim forms.
- Part 8 claim forms.
- Pre-issue applications.
Is it working?
PLC Construction recently attended an “e-Working Awareness Workshop” hosted by HMCS at the RCJ. Also at the workshop were Mr Justice Ramsey (the judge in charge of the TCC) and representatives of several law firms who have used e-Working over the summer.
Generally, comments on the pilot scheme were positive and HMCS reported that around 20% of TCC cases are using e-Working. Users of system were particularly impressed by:
- Its simplicity. The court forms are “intelligent” pdf documents, which guide users through their completion and even calculate court fees automatically.
- Its speed. It only takes around six minutes from filing a claim form to receiving a sealed copy by e-mail.
- The telephone support service, which continues outside office hours.
Any room for improvement?
While most users were happy with e-Working, the were some areas for improvement. Concerns included:
- There is no way of paying court fees on-line. HMCS expects to introduce a payment system within four to six weeks.
- The court forms are not available on-line; users have to request them from HMCS via e-mail. HMCS points out that the e-mail reply is very quick, but is considering whether the forms should be placed on its website for download.
- The system does not accept files larger than 10 megabytes. This has caused some problems, although there are work-around solutions. The HMCS is considering increasing the limit.
- Some law firms have experienced teething problems integrating e-Working with their own case management systems.
In addition HMCS plans several improvements, such as:
- Allowing parties access to the court’s electronic “case file”, although the degree of access has yet to be decided. Eventually, members of the public will also be able to use the system to access information via a “public kiosk”.
- Making provision for electronic court bundles. The new Supreme Court uses electronic bundles, but HMCS is still considering the scope for using electronic bundles in the lower courts.
- Adding information on e-Working to the HMCS website.
Will e-Working be extended to district registries?
HMCS does not envisage extending the system to county courts and district registries within the next two years. Despite this, Mr Justice Ramsey expressed his belief that the scheme could be extended to district registries of the TCC within the next year because of the TCC’s relatively small size.
Ultimately, HMCS plans to extend the scheme will depend on budget constraints. Indeed, given the success of the TCC pilot scheme, it seems that the recession is the only thing that can stop the spread of e-Working.