JUSTICE has a new Working Party on digital exclusion and the reform programme
Following the “Transforming our justice system” White Paper in September 2016, plans for a new Online Court are underway. HMCTS’ reform programme aims to streamline a number of different services online and provide more accessible ways for non-lawyers to commence and respond to claims. Moving proceedings online will especially impact the civil courts, where the number of litigants in person has risen sharply.
Research by Citizens Advice indicates that 71% of respondents would ‘think twice’ about taking their case to court without a lawyer. As JUSTICE pointed out in our 2015 Working Party report, Delivering justice in an age of austerity, justice is denied to many ordinary people simply because they cannot afford it. This is not how we want our justice system to work. Online and virtual justice, it is hoped, can increase access to justice by doing away with archaic and inaccessible procedures that leave many LiPs out of their depth. Modernisation could make the courts more user-friendly and efficient – a system suitable for the 21st century and beyond.
However, though we live in an increasingly digital age, a significant class of the UK population remain either “digital with assistance” or “digitally excluded”. The White Paper estimates this figure at 70%, and recent ONS statistics show nearly 5 million people in the UK have never used the internet before. For these groups, and perhaps others, accessing online court services may prove a challenge. JUSTICE believes that it is vital that the needs of users are put at the forefront of designing and building the Online Court.
Access to justice is at the core of our work. JUSTICE forms Working Parties of experts to make practical recommendations for change. Over the years, our recommendations have been accepted and acted upon by policy-makers. A recent example is our 2016 Report, What is a Court? The recommendations of this Working Party have been considered in the new design of the court estate. The provisionally titled “Assisted Digital” Working Party will allow us to closely examine the opportunities and challenges of digitisation and doing justice online and virtually. The Working Party will identify the necessary features of simple and accessible online interfaces, and the support required for users with differing needs. For example, the elderly, those with learning difficulties, hearing and sight impediments and those for whom English is not their first language.
By looking at developments in other jurisdictions – such as British Columbia, which recently launched its Civil Resolutions Tribunal – alongside other sectors using online platforms, the Working Party will seek to ensure that inclusive design and necessary support are integral to the digital justice system. With proper support, technology can enhance rather than hinder access to justice.
We will be inviting members of JUSTICE to join our Working Party this autumn. Visit our website for more information https://justice.org.uk/.