Access to Justice and Tech: around the world in pictures and places

This is a guide to developments in the use of technology to increase access to justice told in pictures. The short message is that developments are happening around the world in a piecemeal fashion.

Our world tour will be from A to A – Alaska to Auckland. Hold onto your hats: we are taking off.

Where is this? Alaska.

Why? Because Alaska, with Hawaii, is the site of a Legal Services Corporation pilot into a statewide legal access portal (undertaken with Pro Bono Net and Microsoft) ‘to direct individuals with civil legal needs to the most appropriate forms of assistance. These portals will use cutting-edge, user-centered technology to help ensure that all people with civil legal needs can navigate their options and more easily access solutions and services available from legal aid, the courts, the private bar, and community partners.’

Comment. A portal of this kind is closely linked to the notion of triage – which may have various meanings but which is perhaps best seen as composing intake, referral and the provision of information. As we go around the world, we will see different balances to these three components which make fertile grounds for comparison.

Where? Vancouver

Why? Vancouver is a real access to justice/technology hub and has no less than three world class projects. First, its civil resolution tribunal, the first online tribunal, with its innovative solution explorer at its front end, which allows users to explore non-court solutions before they issue proceedings. Second, the legal aid provider, the Legal Services Society, runs an information website originally developed with assistance from the Dutch (see later) and which uses interactive guided pathways to provide information rather than static screens. Third, a highly innovative NGO, the Justice Education Society, has used a variety of novel techniques to communicate information, including the creation of an apparent hologram, JES, which interfaces with the user.

Where or what? Google based in Mountain View, California.

Why? As a reminder of a debate which we will ultimately have to face. If we are really concerned with access to justice does our best hope lie not so much in developing our own portals and own-branded information sources but rather in ‘sleeping with google’ (in which phrase google is just an example of a major provider – it could as easily be Amazon or Facebook)?

Where? New Orleans.

Why? New Orleans has become (at least for next year and last) the home of the best conference on technology and access to justice. It is run by the US Legal Services Corporation and is primarily concerned with the US but attracts a number of delegates from other countries. It is a unique gathering of people in different organisations brought together by a common interest. There is still time to register for January and, if you work a LSC-funded project, you should. Very much worth it if you don’t. If you are there, you will see this a version of this presentation as part of the rapid fire tech section where presenters get to present 20 slides in 6 minutes 40 seconds. A write up of one day of the last year’s conference is here.

Where? Chicago.

Why? It is the home of three important organisations. First, the American Bar Association and its ABA Center for Innovation which reflects a growing interest around the world by the private profession in technology and the way that professional representative bodies are seeking to help those in smaller firms. Second, Illinois Legal Aid Online, one of the best existing portal sites, that combines assistance for self represented litigants and referral. Third, the Centre for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) at Chicago-Kent Law School which has played a major role in developing interactive tools for helping self-represented litigants to fill in forms.

Where? Toronto.

Why? Toronto, as the capital of Ontario, is the base of the province’s legal clinic movement, some of whose members have experimented with various uses of technology to deliver services – eg video delivery to remote locations and the use of guided interviews (as developed by CALI – see above) and to CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario)’s Steps for Justice programme.  This styles itself as a ‘unique collaboration of justice sector organisations’ and it probably is since a range of organisations, inside and outside of government, combine to produce information. These include the Ministry of the Attorney General,  the Superior Court of Justice, the Ontario Court of Justice, Social Justice Tribunals of Ontario, the Law Society of Upper Canada, Legal Aid Ontario, the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario, the Association des juristes d’expression française de l’Ontario and the Ontario Justice Education Network. In many jurisdictions, including my own, this would be a fraught enterprise but, for Canada, it appears to work. It does raise another element of the ‘sleeping with google’ conundrum. If legal information is to go mainstream, will it be difficult to maintain the advocacy orientation of much that is provided by the not for profit sector?

Where? Montreal.

Why? Montreal has the best name for a university department dealing with technology. The Labarotoire de Cyberjustice or Cyberjustice Laboratory at the University of Montreal. This is reminder that English is both a tremendous link between those in anglophone countries and a terrible excluder of those who are not. The Laboratory has a working model of a court where new developments can be tested in an academic setting.

Where? Boston.

Why? Boston is the home of one of the best US legal services projects, Greater Boston Legal Services, which still upholds the tradition of strategic litigation. And here is a very practical account of its implementation of a new client management system as a vital underlay to its  work.

Where? Washington, looking a bit like the Taj Mahal.

Why? It is the home of the US Legal Services Corporation. After a summit in 2013, the LSC produced five strategic objectives for the involvement of its funded projects in technology;

  1. Creating in each state a unified “legal portal” which, by an automated triage process, directs persons needing legal assistance to the most appropriate form of assistance and guides self-represented litigants through the entire legal process
  2. Deploying sophisticated document assembly applications to support the creation of legal documents by service providers and by litigants themselves and linking the document creation process to the delivery of legal information and limited scope legal representation
  3. Taking advantage of mobile technologies to reach more persons more effectively
  4. Applying business process/analysis to all access-to-justice activities to make them as efficient as practicable
  5. Developing “expert systems” to assist lawyers and other services providers.

One of the challenges for the LSC is to update these objectives, on most of which it has made progress, and for those involved internationally to formulate equivalent goals to guide innovation around the world.  What should the priorities now be?

Where? London – as you and I have probably never seen Tower Bridge before and looking straight out of a Gothic New Gotham movie.

Why? First, London is the base for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service which is implementing the world’s most ambitious digitalisation of the courts and tribunals of England and Wales. This has come under some criticism in relation to access to justice, not least from this blog. But, they will provide other jurisdictions with a comparator. Second, London is the base for the Law Centres Network whose Julie Bishop has recently reported on how it has prioritised upgrading its basic ‘productivity tools’. Third, London is the home of the Legal Education Foundation which has provided the Law Centres Network with its funding (as well as this blog) in furtherance of its commitment to a major theme of using technology to further access to justice.

Where? The Hague

Why? it is the home of HiiL, the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law. This remarkable institution has set off two waves of influence, which it has vigorous promoted globally. First, it was behind the Rechtwijzer, a world-leading programme that showed how information on the web could be tailored to users through guided pathways and legal processes integrated with online assistance and mediation. This ultimately failed commercially but its legacy lives on both in relation to the original project in The Netherlands, where it has been reborn, and in the guided pathway approach to digital information provision exemplified in British Columbia (see above) and to be regenerated in England and Wales where, after suspension, Relate will proceed with its own heavily modified. Second, HiiL has turned its attention outward to countries with developing economies. In 2018, it held seven conferences across Africa, Europe and Asia as part of its Innovating Justice programme. This will culminate in the second international conference worth attending – the Innovating Justice Forum in the Hague in February. Here is a report of the last forum in 2017.

Where? Benin.

Why?  HeLawyer, ‘a mobile app which provides around the clock legal advice to citizens’, won the HiiL innovating justice competition in Lagos. It is in French and from a country which you would not normally associate with technological development. The name probably (hopefully) lacks the gender association it would have in English.

Where? Singapore.

Why? Singapore is a technologically advanced, highly centralised, small country (you might care to see it as possibly the best version of a post-Brexit Britain with, very likely, a much similar international weight). Its Academy of Law has joined other law societies like the ABA and the Law Society of England and Wales in reviewing the role of technology in the law. It has also drawn up a plan for the modernisation of the delivery of legal services. This, it has to be said, is more orientated to the commercial sector than access to justice.

Where? Melbourne, Victoria.

Why? First, it is one of the homes of Justice Connect, a pro bono project which has developed its own portal site and its own tenant app. Justice Connect demonstrates the value of international links. Its Kate Fazio pays tribute to the inspiration of the LSC technical conference. Second, Victoria Legal Aid is a particularly active legal services provider that has developed its own online triage tool and is bold enough to be the author of the kind of warts and all public assessment of a dud project that is so valuable to anyone who has been there and done a good deal of that. Third, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal is developing an online small claims court which will allow further comparison of the differing approach currently exemplified by BC’s solution explorer and England and Wales online court.

Where? Auckland

Why? We end with a failure but a telling one. A New Zealand company, Soul Machines, which is ‘a ground-breaking high tech company of AI researchers, neuroscientists, psychologists, artists and innovative thinkers; re-imagining how we connect with machines. We bring technology to life by creating incredibly life-like, emotionally responsive artificial humans with personality and character that allow machines to talk to us literally face-to-face! Our vision is to humanize artificial intelligence to better humanity.’ For a really spooky experience consult its website and observe the moving (inter)face. Soul Machines created Nadia, a chatbot, which, armed with the voice of Cate Blanchett, was going to provide an AI assisted answering service on questions relating to a new disability insurance benefit in Australia. The plug was pulled by the government when it took fright at escalating costs and IBM Watson proved too slow. Make of that what you will.

Who? Nadia.

Why? To provide a warning of too much optimism, at least at present, on artificial intelligence and chatbots, however sophisticated.

We did it. We circled the world in the time it took you to read this column. Up to you to make the conclusions. Mine are minimally concealed in the text (if only by selection) and available in more linear form in an earlier post.

The selection of places unashamedly reflects a personal bias. If you have a contender for addition – or removal – please do get in touch. This is an evolving project. The photos of places come from the incredibly useful free picture resource that is Pixabay.

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