That was the Month that Was: April 2020

1 April 

People’s Law School in British Columbia gets praise on Twitter for exemplary lay out of answers to common legal questions raised by Covid 19. It demonstrates nice use of Q and A; drop down information; and individual stories. The best presentation of this type anywhere in the world?

Gemma Bryne of Citizens Advice demonstrates graph charting change and rise of queries to advice site during March, showing dramatic impact of Covid 19: 

2 April

Community Lawyer in US demonstrates app to draft automated letter of rent non-payment. does the same.

3 April

Research team at Ministry of Justice in England and Wales report on the experimental use of a chatbot. The team found simple information was not enough: it had to upgrade the content for a second iteration: ‘Due to a resource issue, there was no research testing for the second iteration of the chatbot and the team could not directly compare the first and second iteration.’ Hey, ho. Nevertheless, the experiment suggested that users liked this new way of providing information: ‘At the end of this project the team found: the users of this service wanted tailored content; users were more likely to find and engage with pages accessed through the chatbot than through the normal website; the number of referrals improved when using the chatbot compared to referrals going through the usual process …’

Fair Trials publishes guide to safeguarding the right to a fair trial during the Coronavirus pandemic. ‘Defendants should be able to exercise their rights fully and effectively [language reflecting the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights], even when they are not physically present in court’.

‘Even in these extreme and unusual circumstances, there should be strong preference for court proceedings to be conducted in person to safeguard the rights of defendants. Non-urgent criminal trials, in particular, should not take place if the defendant cannot be physically presented in court for public health reasons. However, we acknowledge that criminal justice systems need to continue to function during this global health crisis, and courts will need to resort to remote hearings to deal with urgent matters, and to prevent an unprecedented backlog of cases that could harm the effective administration of justice in the future.

‘When determining whether or not a court hearing should take place remotely, the following factors inter alia should be taken into consideration:

• the length of delays and their likely impact on the rights of defendants (particularly where the defendant’s period in pre-trial detention is likely to be prolonged);

• the nature of the hearing, including:

– the complexity of the case and the matter being dealt with;

– the need to call witnesses; and

– the likely impact of the hearing on the rights of the defendant (for example, if it puts the defendant at risk of deprivation of liberty);

• the availability and quality of equipment and systems used for communication between the court and the defendant; and

• the existence of impairments or other factors that could negatively affect the defendant’s ability to participate effectively in court proceedings.

‘Where there are strong justifications that mandate the use of remote justice procedures, remote hearings should only take place if there are adequate safeguards in place that address various threats to the right to a fair trial.’

6 April

Catherine Baksi, a journalist at the Law Society Gazette, reports on first skype trial: ‘For the lawyers and expert witnesses involved, the first trial conducted through Skype was a success – but that enthusiasm is not shared by the litigant.’

ABA Task Force on Legal Need Arising Out of the 2020 Pandemic launches website.

7 April 

Latest snapshot of statistics for use of Civil Resolution Tribunal in British Columbia for March 2020 – tagged, inter alia, as ‘continuous improvement’.

Kate Fazio of Australia’s JusticeConnect is interviewed by US veteran commentator on law and technology, Bob Ambrogi.

9 April

Right to Remain launches board game version of the UK asylum system as a learning aid.

AdviceNow publishes guide to best information on Covid 19 and law in UK.

10 April

‘There’s no reason you should have a boring Zoom background. The ABA Social Media team has made it a priority to ensure all legal professionals are equipped with engaging, quality and, most importantly, realistic backgrounds for your video conferencing needs.’

14 April

Access to Justice Foundation in England and Wales launches Emergency Advice Appeal with other partners ‘to support and fundraise for the Community Justice Fund. The Fund is a joint initiative to help specialist social welfare legal advice organisations across the country to cope with the immediate impact of … Covid-19 …’. By 6 May, the total stood at £365,324.’

15 April

The Engine Room publishes report on ‘Understanding the Lived Effects of Digital IS systems. These are somewhat paradoxical: ‘Digital ID can empower marginalised people while also increasing surveillance of those same populations’.

17 April

Texas – where everything is always big – Courts report that ‘In 3 weeks of #TXCourts using ZOOM for remote hearings, more than 1200 judges have held over 20,000 hearings  with 65,000 participants.  That’s roughly 30,000 hours of online court!’.

Ipse Dixit releases podcast interview with John Mayer of CALI – the Centre for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction in Chicago.

Georgetown Iron Tech Lawyer competition, reported here.

21 April

New York Legal Assistance Group launch Covid 19 hotline every morning Monday- Friday.

22 April

‘Remote justice and our clients: the view from YLAL [Young Legal Aid Lawyers] North’, given rave review here.

23 April

Richard Susskind continues book tour promotion via Harvard and zoom, reported here together with observation that the debate on remote courts needs to show more granularity and detail. Actually, the Young Lawyers of the North (see above) had a more interesting discussion. 

26 April

Podcast of Law Society of England and Wales on safety of video conferencing software.

29 April

Equality and Human Rights Committee (EHRC) raises issues on remote court hearings: ‘The EHRC has not called for video and audio hearings to be halted, but it has expressed concerns about the lack of data currently available on the use of remote hearings, and encouraged Governments to begin collecting this data now to inform its use in the future.’

Law Commission publishes paper on Employment Law Hearings but fails to discuss potential impact of remote hearings.

Interesting podcast interview with Counsel for Creators’s Jon Tobin on providing legal services by subscription – providing steady if low income stream and a referral source.

Controversial identity chasing firm, Clearview AI (see last month), reveals that it is in talks with federal and state governments in the US to track Covid 19 sufferers through facial recognition on NBC.

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