As we are now well and truly up to our eyeballs in the digital age, it should be expected that at least some functions of the County Courts can be done online. The trend is now for legal advice, solicitors, DIY Wills and other legal services to all be available online.
While we are still far away from the prospect of fully online County Courts, an individual or business can still make money and possessions claims online as well as pay their court fees through the medium of the Web.
Online County Courts are not all that feasible because the legal system is built around the idea of face to face communication. The idea of creating a streamlined system of online claims that could then be taken to the formal court setting is one that is clearly in the minds of legislators and legal professionals.
It is in this spirit that the government created a system for certain kinds of online claims. While the system could well expand in the near future, at the moment it is limited purely to claims for money and possession claims.
Offering some of the County Courts’ duties online obviously creates a number of potential problems involving security and data protection, although the government have gone to great lengths to reassure people that the proper steps have been taken.
These online claim services are channeled through the Government Gateway. This is the centralised registration service for over 100 government services including tax self assessment, benefit services and online County Courts services.
Online claims for money
Money Claim Online (MCOL) is a service established by HM Courts and Tribunal Service that allows claimants and defendants to initiate online claims for money owed and respond to them.
The kind of online claims that can be made using MCOL are ones that have a monetary or financial value of less than £100,000, or are directed at no more than two individuals or organisations who have valid addresses in England and Wales.
These kinds of online claims do not render the whole process of the County Courts an online one; they can only be used to request a decision from the court and to have that decision enforced legally. The service is not available to anyone who is under 18 or receiving legal aid.
To make an online claim using MCOL an individual will first have to register within the Government Gateway, where they will be given an ID number for the Gateway and a MCOL customer number.
The cost of making a claim online is lower than the equivalent County Court fees. Claims for amounts of up to £300 will incur a £20 court fee, while claims with a value of £5,000 will cost an individual £110.
Online claims for possession
The other types of online claim that can be made are possession claims using the Possession Claim Online (PCOL) service. This service functions very much like MCOL except that it allows businesses and individuals such as tenants and their landlords to issue claims and warrants.
Online claims made using PCOL cannot be issued against children or certain types of mental health patients, the government or the monarchy. PCOL claims can also not be made by people being assisted by legal aid or who are under the age of 18.
Online County Court fees
Making online claims using either PCOL or MCOL is not a free service and will incur County Court fees, although these are likely to be lower than they would be in a normal legal proceeding.
Paying the fees for any online claims using MCOL using a credit or debit card will appear on statements as MONEYCLAIMOL.
Online County Court services can also be used to pay the court fees of any normal claim that is made in the County Court, as long as the payments are made within the time limits set.
Despite these online claim procedures removing the need for a solicitor in the court room, their legal advice and guidance in preparing to make a claim can still be invaluable.