Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘use of IT

Preventing digital exclusion

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A great deal of effort is currently being put into finding ways of using IT to deliver legal services, whether in the form of: providing legal advice and assistance to those who need it;  conducting various types of legal activity/process on-line; dealing with disputes online.

In general, the modernisation of the practice and procedure of the law through IT is to be welcomed. At the same time, there are concerns that some of the most vulnerable in society may be excluded from this brave new world. They may not have easy access to computers, or the ability to use them. In rightly encouraging digital solutions, at the same time policy makers need to ensure that the most vulnerable are not left behind.

In a recent policy paper, the human Rights group JUSTICE has drawn attention to the importance of ensuring that people are not excluded from the rapidly developing digital legal world.

In their report Preventing digital exclusion from online justice (published in June 2018), they analysed the potential issues that those engaged in the reform of legal procedures need to bear in mind.

The report makes a number of recommendations, directed primarily at HM Courts and Tribunals Service. They include:

  • Greater investment in “trusted faces” in “trusted places” i.e. services already providing digital support and internet access.
  • Considering the specific challenges of providing support to the digitally excluded, especially hard to reach cohorts – including testing Assisted Digital services in regions where the internet may be difficult to access. (Assisted Digital envisages a flexible mix of telephone, webchat, face-to-face, and paper-based support services. HMCTS is commissioning a programme of work to evaluate what types of support and in what combinations works best.)
  • Paying specific attention to highly digitally excluded groups, like homeless people and detainees.
  • Designing online justice services with an independent “look and feel” to reflect the constitutional independence of the courts.
  • Maximising the benefits of the “multi-channel” approach – helping people move with ease between digital access, phone assistance, face-to-face assistance, and paper.
  • Ensuring online justice services cater for the most affordable and ubiquitous mode of digital interaction: mobile technology.
  • Conducting end-to-end pilots of online justice services, learning from hearing and enforcement stages what is required at earlier stages.
  • Researching how people behave in an online environment and choices between Assisted Digital channels.
  • Collecting and making available the widest range of data possible to support research by external experts.

Internationally, there is a great deal of experiment going on with different forms of communicating advice and assistance. There are being kept under review by Professor Roger Smith who, with funding from the Legal Education Foundation, provides – among other things – an annual review of development in the use of IT to increase access to justice. He also writes a blog which looks in mor detail at specific initiatives relating to trying to improve access to justice – not just through the use of new technologies but also new ways of funding them such as crowd funding.

For those interested in how the application of new technologies might change ways in which the delivery of legal services are undertaken, this is an outstanding resource – full of links to detailed initiatives. At the same time, the need for realism in potential impacts is also stressed. It is important not always to believe the hype surrounding new applications.

The JUSTICE report is at https://justice.org.uk/new-justice-report-on-preventing-digital-exclusion/.

The Annual Reviews of digital delivery of legal services can be found at https://www.thelegaleducationfoundation.org/digital/digital-report.

Roger Smith’s blog on developments in Law, technology and Access to Justice is at https://law-tech-a2j.org/publications/

Also relevant is the report, published in July 2018, from the Centre for Justice Innovation, which also looks at public attitudes towards the greater use of IT in the justice system.

See http://justiceinnovation.org/portfolio/just-technology-emergent-technologies-justice-system-public-thinks/

 

 

 

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Transforming the English Legal System

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September 2016 saw the publication of an extremely important Consultation Paper, which sets out ideas on how the courts and tribunals system in England and Wales should be reformed.

Its proposals are based on three principles, that the reformed system should be proportionate, accessible and just.

The Paper states:

To deliver a system that is proportionate and tailored for the complexity and
seriousness of individual cases, [the Government is] taking a consistent approach across jurisdictions [i.e., criminal, administrative, family and civil], including:
i. More use of case officers for routine tasks: Judges spend too much of their time
dealing with uncontroversial, routine or straightforward matters which could just as
effectively be dealt with by court staff under judicial authorisation. Where it is
appropriate, specially trained staff will be able to carry out some of this work to
help justice move faster.
ii. More decisions made “on the papers”: Where a case is relatively straightforward or
routine, representations will be made online in writing for a judge to consider
outside of a traditional court room, without the need for a physical hearing,
meaning a more convenient experience for everyone involved.
iii. More virtual hearings: Where a judge needs to listen to the parties make their
arguments, it will be possible in many cases to hold the hearings over telephone or
video conference, without the need for the parties to travel to a court building.
There will still be an important place for physical court hearings for criminal trials
and other serious or complex cases, but where they are appropriate, virtual
hearings offer an easy and convenient alternative for everybody.
iv. More cases resolved out of court: In appropriate cases, we will encourage parties
to settle their disputes themselves, without the intervention of the courts.
The Government wants to make legal processes more accessible and easier for to use, with many  services moving online – for example:
i. Putting probate applications online: Dealing with probate affairs can be difficult and
complicated at a time when people are often coping with bereavement. We are
digitising the probate system to allow the entire process to be managed online,
from application to resolution, making it an easier and faster process when cases
are uncontested.
ii. Managing divorce online: Work has already begun to allow divorce applications to
be made and managed online, removing some of the bureaucracy from often
stressful and lengthy proceedings and simplifying cumbersome administrative
processes.
iii. Digitising applications for Lasting Powers of Attorney: Allowing people to make
arrangements for a time in the future when they may not be able to make
decisions by themselves is a helpful but often emotionally stressful process.
Applications have been partially digitised since 2014, resulting in fewer application
forms being returned because of errors. We will build on this by making the system
fully digital to deliver a quicker service.
Across the board, the Government wants to simplify forms and make processes more
straightforward so they are easier for everyone to understand. Many of these changes are designed to bring the justice system up to date for the modern world and take advantage of advances in technology to provide a faster,more accessible service for users of the courts and tribunals.
It is important, however, any unintended effects of this technology are taken into account to make sure that the system remains just. Thus the Government intends to:
i. Provide a system that works for everyone: Digital and online processes are easy
and efficient for many people, but the justice system must also work for people
who do not or cannot access services online. We must provide an alternative route
of access for every service that moves online. ..
ii. Continue to ensure open justice: It is a core principle of our justice system that
justice is open. “It is not merely of some importance, but of fundamental
importance that justice should not only be done, but should be manifestly and
undoubtedly seen to be done,” as Lord Chief Justice Hewart said in 1924. The
principle of open justice will be upheld and the public will still be able to see and
hear real-time hearings, whilst we continue to protect the privacy of the vulnerable.
Most of these changes build on initiatives that are already underway. What is important about this new Consultation Paper is that it is being jointly promoted by the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals.
I set out in separate blog items the sections of the Paper on each of the different parts of the justice system.
The paper is not open for consultation for long. To read the paper and find the questions to which the government is seeking answers go to https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-our-courts-and-tribunals

Written by lwtmp

October 5, 2016 at 9:31 am