Duty desk webcam advice is here
Based in Truro Combined Court this new project is an extension of the work already being done by University House Legal Advice Centre in London and the Dracaena Centre in Falmouth to bring pro bono advice services to rural and under provisioned areas.
The Dracaena Webcam Advice Project is a partnership between University House Legal Advice Centre (LAC) and the Dracaena Centre, a community centre in Falmouth which uses lawyers at the LAC in Bethnal Green to deliver legal advice to clients in Falmouth via the webcam platformed developed specifically for this service. Funded principally by the Legal Education Foundation, the project went live in October 2017.
Now the project is widening; today the platform will be used to provide a duty desk service in Truro staffed remotely by lawyers using webcam enabled computers and smartphones.
Truro duty desk
The duty desk will be operational every Monday from 9.15am to 4pm, the legal advice given will be provided by solicitors from the Legal Advice Centre and partner organisations. The project will support people who have “live” family law cases, particularly court users who have Section 8 child arrangement cases or who have Domestic Violence cases including non-molestation order applications.
While the project is aimed at cases listed at Truro and Bodmin Combined Courts, the court computer access point will be solely based in Truro Combined Court though people will also be able to access the service using their home webcam enabled computer or via their smartphone through the online chat button on the Cornwall Video Chat Service webpage and choosing to speak to someone in the family department.
Users will then be able to start chatting and video calling when someone is available to provide advice. The platform has the ability for users to upload their files remotely, including by taking and sharing photos of letters and documents.
The initial project is focusing on providing services in Cornwall and Devon, users will have to provide documents which verify their address, but the LAC has plans to move quickly to develop further ‘duty desks’ in Cornwall and Devon and other key hub areas such as Plymouth in the hope that supported service provision in these areas will develop a ‘scaffold’ around which further free advice projects can flourish.
Further to this the LAC has plans to further develop their partnerships so that they can continue to create viable access to justice projects in advice deserts around the country.
What is the wider impact?
One of the key components of this project is the LAC taking the initiative and seeking to form beneficial relationships for the local organisations involved. For example, the LAC worked intensively with the Dracaena Centre on fundraising and grant bids and it’s now been confirmed that, thanks to their joint efforts, the Dracaena Centre has secured a £250K grant from the Big Lottery.
This approach is an interesting step, not only in terms of the use of technology in the project but also in the leadership and initiative shown by individual members of the advice sector and initiative shown in taking practical steps to address what is nationally recognised as an issue.
An while provision of free legal advice services in Cornwall might not feel like the most obvious project for an organisation in Bethnal Green it is an important step to using pro bono services to deliver help to those most in need, wherever they might be based.