For technology to truly enhance access to justice the service or product should be low cost or free, technology makes this possible and can facilitate huge amounts of legal information for everyone to use (Peruginelli, 2016, p110). This ensures the widest audience possible can be reached and allow those in need to readily access legal information and support. To fully exploit the opportunities of technology, legal information should also be made available as structured data and freely reusable (Peruginelli, 2016, p109). Openness and collaboration of data usage can inform governments on access to justice issues and companies developing new services and applications in how to improve their services.
The government has a moral and legal obligation to provide comprehensive legal information freely to individuals. The cost of implementing such a tool would be minimal to the government (Mitee, 2017, p17).
The costs of accessing justice can be minimised for both user and provider where the legal problem is tackled early and efficiently. For the user, being able to access the necessary support early on can be beneficial in helping to resolve legal issues efficiently and effectively, avoiding unnecessary costs (Legal Support: The Way Ahead, 2019, p5). Indeed, there are some legal issues that are complex where clients require and prefer seeking advice face to face (Smith and Paterson, 2014, p21). Further, for self-represented litigants and the most vulnerable in society, human advisers are often the most important resource to provide support (Litigants in Person Report, 2011. p.10)
Online dispute resolution (ODR) tools have been successful in resolving legal problems quickly and cheaply and have been described by some as acting as the fourth party (O’Sullivan, 2016, p28; Gaitenby, 2006, p372; E Katsh, 2006, p10). For example, it is estimated over 60 million disputes are resolved on Ebay’s online dispute resolution platform every year, reducing the need for costly and time consuming court action (Dal Pubel, 2018, p133). Online dispute resolution also creates a secure digital space in a way which reduces conflict (Putting Justice Within Reach, 2017, p14). However, ODR tools do present practical problems in relation to enforceability of outcomes and dealing with appeals (O’Sullivan, 2016, p38).
Unless the service is purely altruistic or funded by the government some providers have struggled to remain profitable and continuing providing services. The cost and poor revenue was an issue that led to the downfall of Dutch Rechtwijzer 2.0. Low-level disputes are generally uneconomical (O’Sullivan, 2016, p28), the juxtaposition of providing low cost advice and remaining profitable for providers has been circumnavigated by some by innovating pricing structures. This strategy involves combining legal information for people are more able to pay and those who are not, those who are more able subsidise the more disadvantaged (Technology, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law, 2019, p22). For example, Law for Life provide over half of their resources for free (mainly to issues surrounding family and children) while the other half is sold at two different price points (Technology, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law, 2019, p22). Some businesses and law firms are enabling access to justice in areas that are less profitable by using technology that has worked effectively in other sectors (Yates, 2016, p249; Susskind, 2011; Capturing Technological Innovation in Legal Services, 2017, p99). The charity sector has also adopted this strategy by applying methods already in use by the commercial sector to improve efficiency and usage of their services. For example, the Citizens Advice Bureau have adopted a bespoke case management system which allows advisers to input information. This has improved the organisations online advice with three times as many visitors to their website with other 25 million visitors in 2018-2019 (Technology, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law, 2019, p20). [An example of a case management system is ‘Advice Pro‘]
Technology has also provided efficiency and therefore cost saving within the court system itself. In the UK, divorce applications to family courts have seen a reduction in rejection rates from 40% to 0.4% by allowing online applications in addition to the traditional paper method (Post-Implementation Review of Part 1 of LASPO, 2019, p155). In Colombia the advent of an online arbitration system has cut processing time from 20 years to just two months by moving everything online (Lozada-Pimiento, 2019, p13). The efficiency technology can bring to administration of justice provides huge opportunity for litigants to have their case heard and effectively access justice.
- Dal Pubel, Luca, ‘E-Bay Dispute Resolution and Revolution: An Investigation on a successful ODR model’ (2018)
- Gaitenby, A, ‘The Fourth Party Rises: Evolving Environments of Online Dispute Resolution’ (2006) 38 Univ Toledo L Rev 372.
- Katsh, E, ‘Online Dispute Resolution: Some Implications for the Emergence of Law in Cyberspace’ (2006) Lex Electronica 10 online https://www.lex-electronica.org/files/sites/103/10-3_katsh.pdf
- Lozada-Pimiento, Nicolás, ‘AI Systems and technology in dispute resolution’ (2019) Uniform Law Review 24(2)
- Mitee, L. E, ‘Towards enhanced public access to legal information: a proposal for official networked one-stop legal information websites’ (2017) European Journal of Law and Technology, 8(3)
- Ontario, Putting Justice Within Reach: A Plan for User-Focused Justice in Ontario (2017) online https://www.ontario.ca/page/putting-justice-within-reach-plan-user-focused-justice-ontario (date accessed: 21/11/20)
- O’Sullivan, Trish, Develop an Online Dispute Resolution scheme for New Zealand consumers who shop online – are automated negotiation tools the key to improving access to justice? (2016) 24(1)
- Peruginelli, G (2016) Law Belongs to the People: Access to Law and Justice. Legal Information Management [online]. [Accessed 30 June 2020]
- Smith, R and Paterson, A, ‘Face to Face Legal Services and their Alternatives: Global Lessons from the Digital Revolution’ (2014) White Report
- Susskind, Richard, ‘The public needs an NHS Direct to provide legal advice—any takers?’ The Times (9 June 2011), available at https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-public-needs-an-nhs-direct-to-provide-legal-advice-any-takers-tpwg8bc69cv
- The Law Society of England and Wales, Capturing Technological Innovation in Legal Services (2017)
- The Law Society, ‘Legal Support: The Way Ahead. An Action Plan to delivery better support to people experiencing legal problems’ (February 2019)
- The Law Society, ‘Technology, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law’  (Date accessed: 11/03/2020) https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/research-trends/technology-access-to-justice-rule-of-law-report/
- The Ministry of Justice, Post-Implementation Review of Part 1 of LASPO (2019) online https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/post-implementation-review-of-part-1-of-laspo (date accessed: 02/07/2020)
- The Working Group, Access to Justice for Litigants in Person (or self-represented litigants) A report and Series of Recommendations to the Lord Chancellor and to the Lord Chief Justice (2011)
- Yates, Paul, ‘CourtNav and Pro Bono in an Age of Austerity’ in Access to Justice: Beyond the Policies and Politics of Austerity. Ed. Ellie Palmer, Tom Cornford, Audrey Guinchard and Yseult Marique (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2016)