September 2020: what happened in technology and access to justice?

1 September

Scottish government announces funds for technology in the service of debt advice: ‘More than £2.4 million will be distributed among a number of advice organisations to expand their services and invest in more effective methods to help individuals with problem debt. The investment will assist projects offering face to face advice using video calls and projects aimed at moving debt solution processes online. This investment will also help the debt advice sector to manage the expected increase in demand as a result of the economic impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19).’

2 September

The UK government, reports Society of Computers and Law, ‘has announced plans to enable the use of digital identity across the UK, with plans to update existing laws and to create a new set of principles to guide policy development. The new plans follow a call for evidence last year as well as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the related move to online working and accessing services.

As background, the government says that 2.6 million people have made a claim for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme online since its launch on 13 May 2020, with 1.4 million having no prior digital identity credentials and needing to pass through HMRC’s identity verification service. It has become clear that people are increasingly required to prove their identity to access services, whether it is to buy age-restricted items on and offline or make it easier to register at a new GP surgery. The government will consult on developing legislation for consumer protection relating to digital identity, specific rights for individuals, an ability to seek redress if something goes wrong, and set out where the responsibility for oversight should lie. It will also consult on the appropriate privacy and technical standards for administering and processing secure digital identities.’

Digital Trends reports trouble ahead for Facebook: ‘The face of Facebook advertising is about to change. With Apple’s rollout of iOS14 in September, Facebook issued a short statement to advertisers letting them know that their formerly hypertargeted ads, as facilitated by the Facebook Audience Network platform, might not work anymore. As first reported by Axios, this will likely have a huge impact on the advertising industry, of which Facebook plays a huge part in the U.S. But while this may be bad for the advertisers and for Facebook, this could be a win for users’ privacy.’

The Judicial Committee of The Academy of Experts (TAE- including judges from UK, Singapore and Hong Kong) offers guidelines on giving remote evidence: ‘Many expert witnesses will already have had experience of giving remote evidence via a video-link where they are the only person who is not in the hearing room (a remote hearing). Few will, so far, have had experience of doing so in circumstances where some or all of the other participants are also communicating via video conferencing software (a virtual hearing). There are, as a result of Coronavirus restrictions, bound to be many more remote and virtual hearings as courts, tribunals and other forms of dispute resolution adapt to appropriate new ways of working. Assisted by feedback on giving evidence remotely already provided to TAE by experts and some of the issues judges have recently been grappling with, we offer the following guidance to experts.’

3 September

Springfield Monash Legal Services in Melbourne  promotes live Facebook discussion on employment law during the Covid pandemic – thus providing an Australian example of online public legal education similar to that of BC’s People’s Law School. This, meanwhile, has announced a new open webinar on making a will. 

4 September

BC’s Civil Resolution Tribunal continues its commendable publication of monthly data for August. 

UK-based Law for Life advertises online course on refugees and housing: ‘The course is for grassroots and community groups who support refugees in securing housing and refugees themselves. The course provides basic legal knowledge and is suitable for people with no prior training on housing law.

Thomas Officer, designer @lawyercommunity reports on witter that ‘Within days of [the US] eviction moratorium, 3 legal apps have been launched to help tenants with eligibility and declarations: @GoA2JTech: https://covid19evictionforms.com @SuffolkLITLab: https://massaccess.suffolklitlab.org/housing/#CDCHoax…@KYEqualJustice: https://community.lawyer/cl/kyequaljustice/cdc-eviction-declaration…

US-based Pew Charitable Trusts sets out the four essential elements of legal assistance portals. This raises issues discussed previously.

7 September

Law Society of England and Wales publishes report on Blockchain issues for lawyers: 

11 September

University of Arizona publishes research on Utah’s ODR platform: ‘Users are ready for online courts: when asked if they had the option, nearly every study participant said they would prefer to use a website over physically going to a courthouse to resolve a dispute. The challenge—and opportunity—now is to integrate human-centered design into the expansion of ODR so the technologies employed are useful and intuitive for all users. The findings from this research study demonstrate that ODR users want accessible and transparent information about how ODR works and what their legal rights and options are within an ODR platform. They also want a platform that is responsive, simple, and has the look and feel of other mobile-first online consumer spaces they use on a regular basis. With the national trend toward ODR accelerated by the unanticipated shift to remote courts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that courts commit to creating fair, just, and equitable online legal environments that meet the needs of all users.’

JusticeConnect in Australia reports on its changing workload in response to Covid 19: ‘Our data on demand for legal help in July  We had 42,500 users in July, which was a monthly record for our website. Our previous record was 31,000 users in April and we expect to break that record again before the year is out. At a glance, we received 65,000 unique page views, including 38,000 to our self-help resources. That was a 125 per cent increase in people accessing our self-help resources compared to June.’

15 September

Quinten Steenhuis of Suffolk University in the US comes back with a list of ‘What Legal Technology Is’. This prompts a further response as far as legal tech in the service of access to justice in a slow-running dialogue.

Want to sit back and listen? Andrea Perry-Peterson interviews Kate Fazio of JusticeConnect in episode 42 of her Re-imagining justice podcast series.

The Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution at Osgoode Hall, York University, Canada publishes its annual report which considers, in particular, the issues around online mediation.

ProBonoNet wins access to justice category of First Annual American Legal Technology Awards. You can watch a video. 

16  September

Clio publishes statistics on impact of Coronavirus on legal practice. Cases are, overall, back on track. Lawyers have, of course, a rather individual take on workloads: ‘Family and traffic offenses continue to recover. Over the past few weeks, family-related caseloads have stabilized and now sit close to baseline. Traffic offenses took a significant dive in April falling to -71% compared to baseline. Fortunately, it has made a strong recovery and steadily increased month-over-month, now sitting near -10% below baseline. Bankruptcy took a dip in April to -46% below baseline and has remained relatively flat month-over-month. Employment & labor has recovered, albeit to a lesser extent than other practice areas, and peaked over the last few weeks at +16% above baseline. However, a major uptick is still to be seen, even with unemployment rates as high as they are.’ These will relate, presumably, larger to Canada and the US where Clio is best established.

For a historical context to the current pandemic, you cannot do better than Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Services, a blog from which traverses seven centuries in four sentences: ‘The historic institution of the magistracy in England and Wales can be traced back almost 1,000 years. Its official birth came in 1285, during the reign of Edward I, when ‘good and lawful men’ were commissioned to keep the King’s peace. It has since survived plagues and pestilence, war and revolution. And now coronavirus.’

24 September

Law Society of England and Wales holds open online discussion on dealing with evictions. This is a part of a series of SolicitorChat online discussions.

25 September

Gotcha. ‘IT country rocks! Belarusian IT specialist from Los Angeles uses artificial intelligence to deanonymize the punishers and reveal their real faces hidden under balaclavas.’

Law Society of England and Wales disappointed by remote hearings in family matters: ‘Remote hearings fail most vulnerable clients, say solicitors’.

29 September

House of Commons Justice Committee to investigate the future of legal aid and, in particular, ‘The impact of the court reform programme and the increasing use of technology on legal aid services and clients’. 

US-based National Association of Drug Professionals publishes an equalities audit assessment tools for adult drug courts: ‘Often we have the best of intentions but un- knowingly exclude people from participating in our program.’

30 September

Online court pioneer, BC’s Civil Resolution Tribunal, appoints a CRT navigator who reports on her work in helping indigenous participants: ‘As the CRT Navigator, I contact all parties who self-identify as Indigenous to introduce myself and the services that I can offer specifically for Indigenous participants. My role as the CRT Navigator is to be a constant point of contact for Indigenous participants as they navigate the CRT process, in order to build a relationship based on trust and mutual respect.’ 

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