NSW government trials online civil court in Sydney

NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton.

NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton.

Ask any lawyer in Sydney and they could regale you with war stories of waiting hours to seek a court order that takes minutes to make. 

In a bid to improve the efficiency of the justice system, the Baird government is trialling an online court to allow parties to manage cases and seek preliminary orders without setting  foot in a courtroom.

A pilot of the online court will kick off in the Sydney Downing Centre Local Court in the final quarter of this year, covering civil cases in the general division. A previous pilot in 2011 covered criminal cases.

The government believes the online court is the first of its kind in a jurisdiction as large as NSW, although some work has been done in the United States and similar work is underway in Western Australia.  

"By embracing the power of technology, the NSW government is making the justice system fast, easier and more accessible for the community," Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton said."We are leading the nation in the use of online legal services."

The online court is part of the government's $9.2 million Justice Online project, which already allows lawyers to file documents in the local, supreme and district courts online and outside registry hours.

Lawyers who opt in to the online court can seek preliminary orders online, such as an adjournment or an order that documents be filed by a certain date, rather than appearing in person in court.

The 28-day waiting period before the first preliminary hearing does not apply online and parties can start making requests immediately.

The government has been trialling the system with lawyers behind the scenes, and they say the response has been positive. It estimates the process could shave three hours of travelling and waiting time from a two-minute matter.

"I would definitely use it for call-overs [preliminary hearings] even though our offices are just across the road," one lawyer said in feedback to the government.

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A pilot in 2011, started under the previous Labor government, covered criminal matters.

A Sydney criminal lawyer who participated in the earlier trial said: "The trial was popular with lawyers, but parties not being in court made it more difficult for magistrates to resolve matters promptly."

Once the Downing Centre Local Court pilot is evaluated, the online court is expected to be rolled out in the first quarter of next year. The aim is for criminal matters and other courts to be included in the future.

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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