Online probate could be a reality within 12 months.

Probate could be conducted entirely online by early 2017 according to the President of the Family Division of the High Court.

Divorce proceedings could also be amongst the first to move almost entirely online according to Sir James Munby who made mention of the coming change during a speech at the annual dinner of the Family Law Bar Association last week.

Sir James Munby also said he believes people will also be representing themselves without legal professionals in more and more cases. He also believes the vast majority of cases will be heard online with even the “heaviest” cases only receiving a traditional gathering of everyone for final hearings and particularly significant interim hearings.

Sir James Munby said: “In future, proceedings will be issued on-line. The applicant – and remember, the applicant will increasingly be a lay person bereft of professional assistance – will not fill in an on-line application form but an on-line questionnaire capturing all the relevant information while at the same time being much more user-friendly.

“Some processes will be almost entirely digitised: early examples will be digital on-line probate and digital on-line divorce, both planned for at least initial implementation early in 2017. Some proceedings will be conducted almost entirely on-line, even down to and including the final hearing. The judge, who will not need to be in a courtroom, will interact electronically with the parties and, if they have them, their legal representatives.”

The argument comes in the wake of widespread court closures across the England and Wales, with 86 scheduled to close, almost one fifth of the present facilities.

The President of the Family Division went on to argue for widespread reform of court rules, which he says are largely unread by lawyers, let alone litigants.

He continued: “We need an entirely new set of rules; indeed, an entirely new and radical approach to how we formulate court rules. The Non-Contentious Probate Rules of today would be all too familiar in their archaic and sometimes impenetrable language to my distinguished Victorian predecessors, Sir James Wilde (better known to most as Lord Penzance), the first judge of the Court of Probate, and Sir James Hannen, the first President of the old Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division.

“The Family Procedure Rules, like their civil counterparts, are a masterpiece of traditional, if absurdly over-elaborate, drafting. But they are unreadable by litigants in person and, truth be told, largely unread by lawyers.”

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