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The process by which lawyers provide the Court with documents that they intend to refer to during a Trial, until now has, like most other aspects of NI Court procedure, been heavily reliant on the use of hard-copy paper volumes. The publication of the Commercial Court eBundling Practice Direction aims to digitise this process – and lawyers will now provide documents to Court via digital means – with hard-copy backups no longer being required.
For those in legal practice in Northern Ireland, and in particular those practicing in the sphere of Commercial Litigation, this is rather more significant than it might sound. Documents to be used as evidence in Trials in the Courts are extremely important, and are often voluminous. The provision of, often multiple, paper copies of these documents puts a strain on the system in a number of ways. From the time taken by lawyers and their administrative staff to prepare Trial Bundles, copy, and deliver them to the numerous individuals who need to see them, to the delay in delivery of physical copies to those individuals all makes the Court process less efficient than it could be.
There are clear advantages to digitising this system. It will alleviate delay in delivery, require the use of less paper, which has an obvious environmental impact, and hopefully also lead to greater efficiency in the process of getting cases to Court, which ultimately is to the benefit of all of those parties who require access to the justice system.
This is one small step, but it is part of a bigger picture. A process is underway aimed at making the Northern Ireland Commercial Court much more technology-driven. The eBundling process complements the use of software elsewhere in the Commercial Court process, and a specific Practice Direction on the use of Legal Technology and e-Discovery software in Commercial matters is now in the works as well.
All of these developments, when taken together, represent a major change in the approach taken by the Courts as regards technology and digital innovation. The practice of Law is something that impacts almost every individual in society at some point in their lives, whether they practice law, or require the services of lawyers in some aspect of the legal system as a client. A more modern legal system will benefit everyone – and where the Commercial Court is leading this digital agenda, it is anticipated that the rest of the Court system will soon follow. There is some distance yet to travel, but the journey appears to now be well underway.