The new electronic filing system in the Rolls Building started out with an initial trial that began with the Technology and Construction Court (TCC) in June 2015 and was later rolled out to the Chancery Division, Admiralty & Commercial, and the Bankruptcy & Companies Courts in October 2015. As the trial has progressed and enhancements have been made to the system, the take up has been growing steadily. The efficiencies that this system can bring to the filing process for both HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) and the legal community, alongside the growing success of the trial, have made it inevitable that the system would at some point be mandated. The process began in October 2016 with the court no longer accepting documents by email and then, on 15 December 2016, it was announced that e-filing would become mandatory on 25 April 2017, for legal professionals, in all of the jurisdictions in the Rolls Building.
Across the law firms working with the Rolls Building, the take up of the e-filing trial has been mixed. Some firms have started to use the system lightly in specific circumstances while still relying heavily on the counter service; others have already moved to e-filing as their primary route to file documents with the court; whilst others have not yet engaged with the system at all.
Usage of e-filing across the courts has seen steady growth throughout 2016, peaking at 4,395 e-filings submitted in November 2016. In December 2016, over 31% of filings were made electronically. This trend appears to be continuing in January 2017.
What this means for law firms
E-filing brings a number of benefits to law firms: it brings the ability to file a document at any time, day or night, 365 days a year from any location. The Rolls Building staff are not processing new filings outside of their normal working hours, but anything filed outside of normal hours will be sealed with the date of filing (subject to the acceptance and payment of the correct court fee, under paragraph 5.4 of Practice Direction 51O). This extends the amount of time that firms have to file documents. This is likely to be particularly helpful where the limitation period is about to expire. For example, if a document must be filed with the court on a given day, it can now be filed at any time up to 11:59 pm. The court won’t see it until the next working day, but it will be stamped as having been received on the day submitted.
Once someone has filed a document on a case, they will be able to view the case progress online through the e-filing system. If a claim form has been filed and served, there is no need to phone the court to find out if an acknowledgement of service has been filed; it’ll be visible in CE-File as soon as it has been filed with the court and approved.
Within a law firm, multiple users can share their access to cases so that a team can share a draft filing internally before it is submitted to court; when a filed document has been approved by the court, all members of the team can have access to view the case and to track progress.
Firms already working heavily with e-filing will be getting these benefits; for those yet to start working with it, there will be some preparation to be done.
Law firms will need to plan how their processes will work with the e-file system, including how they will deal with approving documents before submission and paying court fees.
The system takes payment for any filings for which there is a cost, either by credit card (all major cards except American Express) or by Fee Account. It will be essential to have a method of payment in place for court fees prior to 25 April 2017.
To assist law firms with the transition to e-filing, a terminal with a scanner is due to be installed in the Rolls Building so that anyone needing assistance will be able to speak to someone at the court and log in to the terminal to file their documents from there.
This move to e-filing will bring benefits to both the courts and law firms, enabling smoother filing processes, reduced reliance on paper documents and a reduced need for phone calls to the courts. However, careful preparation by law firms now will be needed to ensure a smooth transition to e-filing.
Neil Smith-Willis is the Lead Business Analyst for Thomson Reuters working on the Rolls Building IT project. Neil has been working closely with the Rolls Building since March 2014 to move them from legacy systems to a full case management system including the e-filing capability.