MG Legal, Your Solicitors In Lancaster, Discuss Online Justice & Whether It Is Fair.
Posted on 1st April 2020
More and more legal services are being moved online, either in full or in part. Whilst it is absolutely true that certain processes being online generally speeds up processes, allows people to access the services more easily (no more calling for forms or attending the Court to pick up a copy) and allows easy editing of your form or case before pressing “submit”, it also takes certain steps out of the path of certain people, where they might more easily pick up legal advice or representation. MG Legal, your Solicitors in Lancaster, specialist in Civil matters, however, we appreciate that the legal world is moving in the same direction, whether you deal with Civil cases, Criminal ones or both.
What is being moved online?
A lot of services, including a plan to widen the scope of certain minor Criminal Offences, have been moved online or will be largely dealt with online in the foreseeable future. Money Claims Online has been around for nearly 20 years for Civil claims where only Money is sought and more recently Possession Claims Online has become active for certain, simple, Residential Property Disputes. We are also pleased to confirm that our Private Client solicitors have an online questionnaire, allowing for Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney to be requested online.
Why is this a good thing?
Online processes for the simpler matters take the strain off ‘in-person’ services and in effect, remove people from an ever-lengthening queue of people in the Civil and Criminal Justice system. For example, the argument in favour of online ‘Guilty’ pleas for minor offences such as Fare Evasion (deliberately not buying a bus or train ticket) include that as the offence can dealt with on a fixed basis, a bit like speed camera motoring offences, there is no need to trouble the Court with having numerous Defendants in the Magistrates Court waiting room simply to have them plead Guilty and receive a stock fine. The same goes for Civil Disputes, an Online Claim is issued and if the Defendant wishes to concede the claim and settle it, no Court time is used and aside from a few moments of administration time, the case is done and dusted.
Why is it a bad thing?
Solicitors in both the Civil and Criminal sectors are dubious of the wider use of online services, as it places individuals, with no legal qualification or access to advice, at the mercy of a faceless system. For example, there are fine lines between “failing to produce a valid ticket” and “fare evasion”. The former is largely considered a (potentially unintentional or even enforced in the case of broken ticket machines) breach of contractual conditions of carriage, carrying no immediate prospect of Criminal Conviction, and travel providers will often satisfy themselves with your buying a ticket or levying a fine and leave it there, even if you elect to use their internal appeals process to dispute the fine. The latter is a Criminal Offence under the Railways Act and often under certain Byelaws, which is fully prosecutable and, in exceptional circumstances, can result in significant fines and imprisonment. For the layperson, whatever the matter, the distinction between the two offences or of settling a claim one way or another can be difficult, particularly with the amounts of legal jargon that often accompany such initial correspondence.
Whilst not particularly welcome, a fine is of no great consequence to most of us, so we might choose to ‘take it on the chin’ learn our lesson and move on with life. However, if asked to enter a plea online, mistaking the milder, non-criminal “failure to produce a valid ticket” offence with “fare evasion” could easily occur. It is difficult to secure a slot at the Citizens Advice Bureau, harder still with one of their few remaining Solicitors and Court staff are not qualified to provide legal advice, although this does not stop people pressing them to do so, often in desperation. . The internet is full of conflicting advice and archaic, vague and often irrelevant Case-Law dredged up by a barrack-room lawyer and so, failing to understand what the charge is and what is being pleaded “guilty” to.
A guilty plea to an offence, will subsequently show on a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Check (which many people may still know as a CRB check) and so prevent them from taking up any number of offers of employment or career path.
The same applies with Civil Cases, where accepting that a debt is owed on an Online Response, automatically entered a County Court Judgement (CCJ) against that person. As people know only too well, CCJ’s follow you for six years and so can prevent you getting credit for mortgages, car finance, credit cards, loans and make it much harder to be accepted for a rental property. MG Legal, your solicitors in Lancaster, will advise you to make offers of settlement on a “without prejudice” basis and to secure agreement outside the Court process. The line, as in the Criminal process, is a narrow one and in effect agreeing to two slightly different things can have massively different consequences.
What to do if you are unsure?
Commit to nothing if you are uncertain of the consequences and seek legal advice. For a potential Criminal Offence, you are entitled to seek a Hearing before the Court and to obtain legal advice free of charge if you cannot afford to pay for it.
If you receive any type of Civil Claim, read the documents carefully and seek legal advice if you are unsure. The best way to avoid being sued, or having to sue someone, is to resolve the matter before it reached that stage. If it does reach the point where the Court’s assistance is required, seek legal advice to prevent the situation becoming worse.
What services to MG Legal offer?
MG Legal, your Solicitors in Lancaster, deal with a variety of matters including Personal Injury, Property, Family & Children and Wills and Probate matters. Simple call, email, use of web-contact form or see one of our offices in Lancaster, Garstang or Longridge and we will put you thorough to the right member of the team.
We aim to accept all Personal Injury cases on a Conditional Fee Agreement (no win, no fee agreement) and all other matters on a fixed fee basis wherever possible. Contact MG Legal and our specialist team will assess your requirements and look to get the ball rolling the same day.
MG Legal – Your Local Solicitors
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