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RDO’s UK VP Partnerships talks access to justice

Amir Ali

See how new RDO VP Partnerships, Amir Ali sees the current problems and access to justice in the UK and where the solutions might lie

Resolve Disputes Online (RDO) is delighted to announce the appointment of Mr Amir Ali, (Immediate Past Chairman of the Civil Court Users Association), as its Vice President of Partnerships UK.

RDO is excited to be working with Amir who has decades of experience in dispute resolution and more recently as a key advisor to Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) in its quest to digitise the courts within the UK. Under Amir's leadership, the CCUA has worked closely on the digital transformation initiative as the Lead Partner HMCTS has on their £1.2 Billion Court Reform Programme with a delivery date of 2023.

Amir's experience and leadership will help RDO progress many of its global projects including the work being done with TechNation to develop an ODR Platform for the UK SME communities.

RDO welcomes a leader and a passionate believer in access to justice around the world.

Who is your favourite cartoon character?

Hong Kong Phooey….mild mannered janitor by day with a tendency to fight crime from behind a mask. Loved the idea of his cat (Spot) as the brains of the operation!

Who inspired you the most during your grown up years?

Nelson Mandela…both his personal struggle / journey and that of the consequences of the Apartheid in South Africa.

Favourite sport and books?

Cricket and anything by John Grisham as own his entire back catalogue.

How do you spend your time outside of work? One word !

THE WEST WING…sorry three words 😊

You have a had a varied career as a top official within the legal profession in the UK, could you share some insight into your early days and reflect on key incidents that shaped you as an individual and later on as a thought leader?

There is one standout moment for me which I would like to share….came back in 86’ at the end of the first week in my first job as the assistant to the Senior Partner of the largest Law Firm in the Midlands, when I met a Mr Derek Dean, who I had instructed on behalf of the senior partners client and personal friend only to be told by Derek that as my instructions were defective, he would not accept my instructions until I rectified the error within the documentation (I has spelt the name of the Lord Chancellor incorrectly within the body of the document, rendering it defective), this error and the subsequent refusal by Derek to accept my instructions meant that my legal career would come to an abrupt end when I had to explain my error to the boss and subsequent delay to an already time sensitive matter. As a direct result of my error, I picked up my briefcase and was on my way to the lift to leave the office, never to return as I was convinced that my single error had just cost me my job and promising young career.

I was unaware that both Derek and my boss at the time were the best of friends and wanted to teach me a lesson, that being that after the requisite research, when one files a document at court for issue, you check it, double check it and then check it again and only when satisfied do you file or issue the same at court… it happened whilst the lord chancellors name had an extra letter in the name, it did not invalidate the document.

Needless to say that I did not see the funny side of my schoolboy error or the shenanigans of Derek and my boss at the time, I learned an extremely important lesson, namely that attention to detail is crucial. This one lesson was an excellent one to learn so early on in my career.

Now aged 79....
Derek has been involved with Enforcement since 1956......
Sheriffs Officer to the High Sheriff of Lancashire covering the Liverpool area from 1961 to 2004 and an Authorised High Court Enforcement Officer from 2004 to date.
Committee member of the Sheriff’s Officers Association from 1969....staying on the Committee as Board Member of the High Court Enforcement Officers Association until appointed Life Long President in 2015.
Amongst his other notable achievements Derek was the last Sergeant of Mace at the Court of Passage in Liverpool (appointed in 1965) until the court was abolished in the early 1970’s.
The Charter for the Court of Passage was handed down to the city of Liverpool by Henry the 3rd in 1229.
Derek was an important and powerful figure (when in practice) within the UK….extremely proud and honoured to call him a friend an mentor to this day!
The lesson here is that “the devil is always in the detail”

As a practitioner with more than three decades of experience, you would have witnessed tectonic reforms within the legal sector. Could you share with our readers about your journey into law and the journey of reforms from when you started to now?

Great question Adi…the last 35 years have seen countless changes in a multitude of disciplines (together within my area of work, being Civil), too many to mention for the purposes of this interview and it would also be fair to say that the landscape is fluid at any given time as development is a constant process. That said there real and lasting reform happens every 30 to 40 years. When I started out in law back in 86’ there were the Wolf Reforms, named after Lord Harry Wolf:

These reforms occurred in the late 1990's and have shaped the current system in England & Wales. Lord Woolf proposed this reform when he published the report in the year of 1997. Following this report, and directly as a result of it, parliament introduced the Civil Procedure Rules of 1998. These were (and still are) the extensive rules that are now used by the courts when dealing with civil matters and procedures.

30 years on In July 2015, Lord Justice Briggs was commissioned by the lord chief justice and the master of the rolls to review the civil courts in England and Wales and make recommendations for structural change. An interim report appeared at the end of 2015 and his final recommendations were published in July 2016. In October 2017, Lord Justice Briggs joined the Supreme Court and became Lord Briggs.

Briggs’ said - “The limited, antiquated and inefficient IT systems currently in use is now on the point of radical improvement” because of government investment, he noted. “At the same time, advances in the sophistication of online services and the large increase in the proportion of court users for whom online communication is both easy and normal make an online court designed for litigants-in-person a practicable proposition for the first time”.

….we have gone from an entirely paper based system to one with ambitions to reinvent and reimaging itself within the confines of a digital one over a period of 35 year!.

What are your thoughts about the current digital transformation drive that the HMCTS has undertaken along with the MoJ?

The current digital transformation drive is ambitious…In short, I would rather both MOJ and HMCTS, under promise and over deliver as this will untimely lead to better outcomes for all court users. In addition the Court Service should focus on making existing processes better rather than go for wholesale change in certain areas under the current global climate.

What do you think could be the future of dispute resolution?

I am a big fan of Prof. Richard Susskind’s’ work and have many of his publications (some of them signed by the legend himself 😊)… there is no reason to re-invent the thinking and direction of travel (or the proverbial wheel in this case), I would simply say that I would agree with Richards view when he was asked the same question recently:

Richard distinguished between two ways technology could be used to automate and transform. The fist involves, essentially, grafting technology onto old workings practices – streamlining, systematising, and optimising traditional legal services. The second is very different and involves using technology to allow you to do things that previously were not possible or even conceivable.

In terms of dispute resolution, as RDO are focused on looking at completely new ways to use and interact with technology going forward, I am hugely excited and optimistic of what the future holds for us all in this space!