Articles filed under Access to justice

This article first appeared in Legal Web Watch November 2018. Legal Web Watch is a free email service which complements the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. To receive Legal Web Watch regularly sign up here.

HM Courts and Tribunals Service held a public event on 6 November, inviting those who represent public court users to see first-hand the progress made over the last year with the court reform program.

With Emily Allbon

Legal design is the process of applying design-thinking to complex legal information, to make the law more accessible and easier to understand for its intended audience. Never was it more evident how ill at ease most of us are when it comes to digesting legal information, than during the pre-GDPR flood of privacy policies into our email inboxes. How many people actually read these missives?

This article first appeared in Legal Web Watch December 2017. Legal Web Watch is a free email service which complements the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. To receive Legal Web Watch regularly sign up here.

Two recent reports consider in some detail the application of technology in delivering legal advice and assistance, viewed through different prisms. Both are, I think, essential reading if you are at all interested in legal tech as we are in danger of being swept away by the hype surrounding leading edge AI and blockchain developments at the top end of the market.

In an earlier contribution to the Newsletter I made the point that the partly hidden “A” as in Online Alternative Dispute Resolution, which tended to focus ODR’s perceived remit on out of court solutions such as mediation and arbitration, was beginning to disappear altogether as more focus was made on introducing ODR into the justice system itself. How is that progressing?

The new HMCTS divorce online service has moved out of Beta and is now online at www.gov.uk/apply-for-divorce. It offers prompts and guidance to assist people in completing their application. The whole process can be completed online, including payment and uploading supporting evidence.

The service has already contributed to a 95 per cent drop in the number of applications being returned because of mistakes.

Our 2017 review continues with developments in the courts.

keyboard by Martins Strobinders

Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) looked set fair little more than five years ago to become a world leader in the commercial provision of access to justice for low income clients.

In 2011, its then newly appointed director, Christina Blacklaws, announced: “we … want to push the boundaries in delivering advice in other ways for people who would rather access legal services in different ways.”

Alas, early optimism has been tempered; Ms Blacklaws has long gone; and now “Recovery stutters at ABS [alternative business structure] standard bearer” reports The Law Society Gazette. The Co-op once offered a world-leading package of external funding, corporate ownership, unbundling and web-based services.

How did it all go wrong and should we temper expectations of the potential role of technology in low income practice more widely? The answer to this crucial question may well be dependent in England and Wales on the digitalisation of the courts.

I don’t meet many people working in the justice system who disagree that we need to change, but people do often question whether we will be able to do what we have said we will, and whether our reforms will be implemented well and will work properly. They point to criminal justice or wider Government IT problems of the past to illustrate these worries.

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The ambitious courts modernisation programme known as HMCTS Reform continues to grapple with the process of creating a justice system that not only is suitable for the digital world of today but also won’t look out of place in fifty years’ time. How is it getting on?

justice online

Courts in England and Wales have been struggling with information technology for so long now, that expectations of any improvement remain stagnantly low. Nevertheless, the current project to create an Online Court with its own procedure and staff goes beyond anything hitherto attempted. Can it overcome a long history of failed IT projects and deliver something that not only matches its own ambition but overturns our low expectations?

And if it does, what will happen to the principle of open justice and accountability, not to mention law reporting, when court hearings are conducted in a virtual realm without the press bench and public gallery of a traditional physical courtroom?

NEC cloud solutions

The testing of online courts should not simply be about whether the technology works, said Andrew Langdon QC, chairman of the Bar, at an event on 16 February hosted by the UCL Judicial Institute, “The Case for Online Courts”.

He sensibly pointed out the “human process” of law, and the potential impacts of the transition to digital over face-to-face technologies.

Langdon was one of a number of experts responding to Professor Richard Susskind’s lecture on his vision for online courts, and online civil dispute resolution in particular.

upgrading-law

On 6 October 2016 Professor Richard Susskind delivered the annual Society for Computers and Law lecture, entitled “Upgrading the Law”, marking 20 years since the publication of his The Future of Law. How had he fared in his predictions?

He was not shy about confirming his successes but did not gloat and admitted that his predicted expert systems solving complex legal issues hadn’t taken off as he’d envisaged. Whilst legal and compliance rules are increasingly built into systems, the artificial intelligence that has arrived is generated by brute force processing rather than elegant, encoded reasoning.

As to recent developments and his hopes and fears for the future, I pick two that have elicited further comment.