Technology and access to justice: a consultation

This post is different. No aspiration here for a polished pearl of perspicacity on a topical issue of the moment. This takes you into a work in progress and offers an opportunity to comment on a task which has proved particularly, and rather surprisingly, difficult. The aim is to produce a framework for analysing technology developments that have the potential to increase access to justice. The immediate purpose is to provide the structure for the next annual review of global developments in the field to be published by the Legal Education Foundation.

I am not new to this task. The run began with Professor Alan Paterson in 2014 and Face to Face Legal Services and Their Alternatives. This was followed by a series of reports for the Legal Education Foundation (LEF). So, I have had several goes at getting an appropriate framework. But, as Ezra Pound said of poetry, the point is ‘to make it new’, to find a fresh way of organising material. I had a go earlier this year at drafting the main areas of impact for a meeting of the LEF’s Justice First Fellows. The trouble was that this identified six points when the powerpoints were drafted; seven at the point of delivery; ten when the material was reworked for this site; and that did not stop correspondence about more – with one reader, Frank Richardson, suggesting that I had missed another eight.

So, I seek your help. We want a way of analysing the major impact of technology on access to justice within a limited number of headings (10 may be the practical max). The aim is a grid which will help comprehension of the complex web of developments at the present time. This must be flexible enough to cover activity in the private, public and not for profit spheres and hold good to cover different jurisdictions.

There are problems with beginning with technology rather than its use. This approach may mask the all important context in which technology is being used. But, the text can accommodate for that. There is, of course, the issue of digital exclusion and a need for traditionally delivered services to traditional communities – but their defence can be dealt with elsewhere.

This is a consultation on an outline. So, I have not given the workings out. It may all be a bit cryptic but that is to preserve it as an easily comprehended sketch rather than anything that appears more than that.

So, here is the pitch. Developments can be divided, it turns out, under seven headings. All suggestions of other numbers were ill informed. The magnificent seven are as follows:

  1. Providers are making more – and better – use of online information and contact:
    • There are different forms of virtual legal practice with differing ways of integrating video and phone with traditional face to face services.
    • Some communities may actually be more easily reached online eg apps that target assistance at the victims of domestic violence.
    • Providers are improving their online information to extend its usefulness eg CLEO in Ontario, Citizens Advice in England and Wales.
    • Online can help with triaging of users and increase help to those for which no other provision is possible.
    • Providers are trying to recognise and deal with digital exclusion
    • Agencies can use to become more transparent and accountable.
  1. Assistance can become more interactive eg through:
  • Guided pathways eg MyLawBC
  • Conversational interfaces and chatbots eg. alas, Nadia in Australia
  • Document self assembly eg A2J author in US and various others
  • Outreach projects can be facilitated – eg Ontario legal clinics legal check up projects
  • Virtual communities can be encouraged
  1. Productivity tools can increase services by
  • maximising potential of standard packages eg LEF funding of law centres in England and Wales
  • Developing new products eg Pre interview questionnaires – eg, alas, the defunct Siaro product but see also developments of case management software eg Clio. This raises the issue of ‘sleeping with google’.
  • Dispute resolution can be transformed eg
    • Online mediation and assistance eg Rechtwijzer – not dead but only sleeping.
    • Online courts. Good example – BC’s Civil Resolution Tribunal; more problematic – England and Wales
  • Online ways of assisting self represented litigants – various in US, CourtNav in England and Wales
  1. Funding mechanisms can be extended
  • Crowdfunding
  1. Training and support of advisers can be improved
  • Encouraging virtual communities of advisers eg  rightsnet in England and Wales.
  • Online training, potential impact of international webinars eg Tyler Technologies on ODR
  1. Legal education and assistance can be transformed by the collapse of both into one service.
  • Information and education eg BC’s Justice Eduction Society Families Change programme.
  • ‘In time’ assistance – eg the smartphone apps for realtime assistance with police stops highlighted in Frank Richardson’s article and in the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law awards.
  • The potential of games.
  1. Systemic problems can be more easily addressed
  • Eg Blockchain and land claims in countries with poor record systems for landownership.

At this stage, everything is changeable. If you have read down to here, do you think that this is an adequate framework?. Does it reflect your analysis? Can it contain your project or one that you think is interesting? This is your chance to get it amended so that it will. Write to Results in May.

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