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Articles filed under Access to justice

Most people would now agree that public information should not only be publicly available, but also freely available. In the area of law, this is assumed to include not only legislation but also case law.

This is, after all, the law of the land, ignorance of which is considered no defence. It is probably impossible to know all of the legislation currently in force, and certainly impossible to know all the common law, developed incrementally, case by case, over hundreds of years. But we should at least be able to refer to it. As public information it should certainly be accessible. Does that mean it should also be in public hands?

This article looks at the pros and cons of placing the custodianship of public legal information in public, private or – a third way – charitable (or non-profit) hands. It looks at the situation as it was, as it is now, and as it might be in the future.

Richard Miller, Head of Legal Aid at The Law Society, said of our Access to Justice Campaign, launched in September 2104, “I am very keen that [it should] include guidance to our members about what they can do to make services more affordable to clients; and that, of course, includes how they can use technology either to deliver old services in new ways or to find new services to provide.”

Neither the scale of the challenge nor its seriousness should be underestimated. On the one hand, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (Laspo) Act 2012 sliced £330m out of the annual civil legal aid budget; on the other, according to Oxfam, one in five of the UK population lives below the poverty line. This is a toxic combination for us all, not just those, mainly recipients of help but also providers of services, who are directly affected. In the Law Society’s view, in the absence of access to justice, people are unable to have their voice heard, exercise their rights, challenge discrimination or hold decision-makers to account. Access to justice is the foundation of a fair and democratic society and an attack on those foundations is an attack on us all.

Can technology really make a difference?

The Big Advice Survey is a collaborative project, created and promoted by individual Citizens Advice Bureaux and Law Centres and an incredibly diverse range of other organisations.

It went live on 1 December 2014 and will run until the end of March 2015. It is the largest UK-wide front-line service collaboration for many years.

Justice.gov.uk is on borrowed time. The intention is to move all information on that site and many other justice system websites to GOV.UK. Justice.co.uk and those other websites will ultimately disappear. Much has moved already.

As such, it is important to get to grips with GOV.UK. This article describes its structure and features with reference to the justice information and services that are or will soon be available there.

Content has recently started migrating away from the Justice website. We’d just got used to the new Justice portal when GOV.UK came along promising to be the new single domain for government information (see the March issue).

A new home on GOV.UK

According to the Justice home page, “Ministry of Justice corporate content has moved to the new single website for government GOV.UK.” But what does this mean?

On 20 November 2012 Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, delivered the First Annual BAILII Lecture, entitled “No Judgment – No Justice” in which he dealt with three important aspects of improving access to justice through improved access to judgments: their clarity, free dissemination and enhancement.

The Justice site is an honourable attempt to provide information on the legal system for the many types of viewers who visit it ”” including the professional user.

The principle of open justice has been robustly developed in English law since the mid-17th century, but the courts service in England and Wales has yet to fully utilise online technology for the dissemination of courts information and legal knowledge.