An Interactive Court Guide that tells it like it is (partly); Cafcass’s MyCourt

Government and government agencies can be so frustrating. Sometimes you can see them get a good idea and go far enough in implementing it to prove its potential. But then, for one reason or another, they don’t follow through. Let us leave the workings of the court modernisation programme for one post and look, at this occasion, at an interactive court guide produced by Cafcass whose role is to protect children in family court proceedings. 

The acronym stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services. Cafcass is a thoroughly worthwhile organisation whose website shows that it is engaged in valuable activity in this field. It makes an effort to explain itself to those with whom its workers might be engaged. For example, it has some good videos where children and young people who have been involved talk to camera. The layout of the site is clean and bright. The content is divided for different users. 

One of the latest additions to the site is MyCourtRoom. This is an online interactive court scene  designed to help you to understand what to expect when your case comes through Cafcass into the family court’. It is a joint project of Cafcass and the Centre for Child Protection at the University of Kent.

Let’s deal with the positives first. Once you get to MyCourtRoom, you get a clear graphic representation of a typical court room around which you can pivot and open up tabs that explain the roles of the various people in it such as the judge and the Cafcass worker. A narrative thread is introduced through Rosie, the child whose future is to be determined. Her situation is as complicated as you would expect with her mother, father and grandmother involved with various partners and children.

So far so good. But… I tested this on my full suite of Apple products (I am a late but fervent – though fashionably uncomfortable – convert). The site won’t load on my iPhone or iPad. It does on my Mac and MacBook. Technical assistance promised at was no help. That is a major restriction on access and not really acceptable in a government site. Hopefully, this is some temporary problem or some glitch with my arsenal of Apple gear.

You have to register to get entry to the site. This was clearly a touchy issue with the Cafcass explaining that ‘we are required by the University of Kent (who helped to develop the programme) to ask all users to register.’ This illustrates a general issue. Providers understandably like registration because it allows them to get more detail on users. Users do not. MyLawBC for example removed requirements to provide a zipcode because they thought it deterred them. Personally, I am not sure that registration gives you much more information than could be obtained by using Analytics. But, this is an issue for the University  – and more widely, funders.

My main gripe – apart from the access – is that the site sets itself up with a narrative and then becomes static. Rosie’s family situation is interestingly and realistically difficult. She says that she is worried that her parents will argue at court. Only, they don’t and they can’t. The user is set up to anticipate a bit of dramatic action. Instead, we get a static representation of the court which explains the roles of the people and, for example, the coat of arms. And that is all. I cannot be alone in wanting to know how all these players acted out; how it went for Rosie; and how Cafcass works in a typically complicated case. Cafcass would give users more if the site were developed into taking us through the scenario and showing how a case like this might be worked through by the court. This would be more difficult – and more expensive – but more valuable. If it is to remain static then detail of the case could be reduced as redundant to the main issue which is just to show us the courtroom.

And the site really should be visible on a mobile and a tablet. 

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