Online system proposed for compensation and divorce cases in NI

By Gillian Crotty

Solicitors dealing with divorces and compensation cases are being asked to consider the introduction of an online dispute resolution system in Northern Ireland.

Holland and British Columbia in Canada are already using such a system for some legal cases, and now the legal profession and politicians are being asked to consider supporting the introduction of the system to deal with low value compensation claims and non-contentious divorce proceedings. Both parties would have to agree to using the online resolution centre, and would have access to professional mediators, including solicitors, through the online portal. Judges might even step in if the case should prove to be particularly complicated. If the dispute cannot be resolved it would only then go to court.

Alastair Ross, DUP MLA and chairman of the justice committee at Stormont, considers that it could be introduced to Northern Ireland, pointing to the success of the system in the Netherlands. The online system there has been able to result in a resolution in 60 per cent of cases, though it has only dealt with a small percentage of the overall number of compensation and divorce cases.

The chair of the Family Bar Association, Sarah Ramsey, says safeguards would need to be introduced to make sure that cases that prove to be more complex get lifted out of the online settings. As an example, she mentioned a divorce case where there are allegations of abuse should be heard in front of a court to ensure the protection of the interest of "children and vulnerable parties."

The legal profession has appeared open to the possibility of the online resolution system being introduced, with chairman of the Bar Council for Northern Ireland, Gerry McAlinden QC, echoing Ms Ramsey's comments that it could be useful subject to certain constraints. He believes it could have some use in minor disputes that don't involve any acrimony, and that the important factor is that it should contribute to an "open and fair and accessible" justice system.

If you require legal advice from a divorce solicitor in Northern Ireland contact Wilson Nesbitt by calling 0800 840 1363, or submit your details online for a callback by clicking here.