Court service on the internet will allow people to sue online

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Cyber courts will allow people to sue from the comfort of their own home 24 hours a day under government plans to make litigation cheaper and more convenient.

By logging on to the courts' website, consumers, small businesses and solicitors will be able to bring a claim and win compensation over the internet without ever having to see a judge. The plans, announced by the Lord Chancellor's Department today, also include extending access to people who don't have computers by setting up a network of cyber court centres in schools, libraries and community centres.

The thrust of the new service, which has already cost £1.8m to develop, will be aimed at the recovery of simple debts. In 2000, 1.6 million claims were made for money owed, usually for unpaid debts, rent arrears or hire purchase payments.

Michael Wills, minister for the courts, said: "This is a significant step forward in our programme to modernise the courts, making them more accessible and providing a service that suits the needs of the people that use them, rather than the people that run them."

If the internet claim is undefended, as most are – only 36,000 debt cases went to trial in 2000 – the money can be recovered without ever stepping inside a county court. Previously claimants would either have had to collect the forms from their local county court or print them off the Court Service website and then either return them in person or by post.

Ian Magee, chief executive of the Court Service said: "The launch of the money claim online pilot is the Court Service's first step into interactive electronic services and is a significant milestone on the road towards meeting the Government's target of providing services online by 2005.

"We expect to have 25,000 claims made using the new online service by the end of this year. It will be quicker and easier to use for parties – and will take some pressure off court staff too."

After registering with the new secure website site claimants create a user ID and password, which they will need to use each time they log on. They then type in the name and address of the person who owes them money, the amount owed and details of their claim.

The claim is then sent to the County Court Bulk Centre, which provides claimants with a number to allow them to check the progress of their case online

Later in the year the online service will be extended to larger solicitors' firms.

The Court Service's pilot scheme is available at www.courtservice.