With the approaching era of driverless cars and shopping
delivery by drone, some have predicted that the role of lawyers
will be greatly changed by technological advancements in artificial
intelligence. Are technological advancements to be welcomed when it
comes to family law?
Earlier this month Young Resolution London hosted an event
debating the motion, 'This House Believes in an Online Family
Court.' It was chaired by the President, Sir James Munby who
gave an address outlining how the digitisation of the court system
will be introduced to make it more efficient and accessible to
clients and lawyers alike.
We welcome the government's efforts to modernise the court
system and believe that our role in helping clients through the
process will remain as important as ever.
In recent years services such as Wikivorce have emerged aimed at
making the divorce process more accessible. Celebrities such as
Gary Lineker have questioned the need for lawyers at all having
managed to reach a settlement in a constructive and amicable way in
his own divorce. But does this approach work for everyone?
It is questionable whether legal advice could ever be delivered
via an automated online system dealing with likely entitlement and
outcome. How would one asses the factors considered by the court
given that they are so subjective and case specific? We do our best
to settle cases out of court, but if a case does go to trial, a
judge will hear evidence to get a feel for whether a witness is
credible. A judge's ability to hear oral evidence would be hard
to replicate online or in an automated environment.
The discretionary nature of the system allows judges to be
creative in order to achieve fairness. Cases are so fact-specific
that an automated and online system may not work to the benefit of
clients. However, when parties have reached an agreement and it is
simply a case of concluding divorce proceedings and dismissing
financial claims, there is surely a place for an online system. But
if parties have complicated business or trust assets or there is an
international dimension, that is where our role is crucial to guide
them through the process and to deal with any difficulties
The discretionary nature of English family law represents the
best and worst of our system, depending on one's view and has
earned London a reputation as the 'divorce capital of the
world'. The digitisation of the court administration is
welcomed if it improves divorcing parties' access to a fair and
timely outcome but it should not be at the expense of proper
Family law remains largely paper-based. Yes, court forms are
available online and we are moving towards the e-filing of Orders,
but a fully online system is very much a future prospect rather
than a current reality. Following the consultation paper,
'Transforming Our Justice System' published in September
2016, work is underway on a pilot project to allow divorce
proceedings to be issued digitally for the first time. No date has
been set for it to be rolled out to the rest of England and Wales
and it is likely to be some way off. We look forward to embracing
technological changes to ensure that our clients continue to
receive the best service available.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Leading family lawyer Sharon Ser, alongside professional support lawyer Philippa Hewitt, have recently contributed a chapter on Hong Kong family law to a new guide comparing family law around the world.
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