Categories
Research Themes

Accessibility

Overview

Legal technologies have made it much easier to provide ‘ever-larger quantities and varieties of sources, information, and data on law’ [Tibor Tajti, 2019. p.428]. It has been theorised by Schauer and Wise that increasing public access to primary legal information is socially valuable as it can provide a focal point for political debate and allow citizens to feel more involved in a ‘public-value-producing enterprise’ [Schauer and Wise, 1997. p275]. The UK does already provide most of its primary legislation online for free but secondary legislation and caselaw is largely left to third party providers. There is also still a long way to ensure understanding of the law which is different from accessing it [Ginevra Peruginelli, 2016. p110]. The combination of access to the law and understanding of the law is fundamental to truly address access to justice issues. Much more can be done to capitalise on the benefits technology has introduced in allowing access to justice.

The abundance of legal information available online does also present issues for a person seeking legal advice and can sometimes prove overwhelming. There is a risk online information, ‘may contain incorrect, misleading, or biased information and data’, this may discourage people from seeking advice in the first place or place reliance on false or misleading information [Tibor Tajti, 2019. p20]. For example, peer to peer advice forums may offer information by citizens with similar legal problems who have experienced the process already. This can certainly be of great benefit in offering empathy and basic administrative support, but it will be very limited in offering accurate advice on substantive legal issues. Perhaps advice forums could be implemented with dedicated moderators with legal knowledge to correct any legal inaccuracies but this may be costly.

The information issue has been exacerbated by a lack of centralised mapping of legal services, which in turn has limited understanding of where gaps are in the market and where co-operation could take place between providers [The Ministry of Justice, 2019. p12]. It is not enough to just make information available online, it needs to be available as structured data and freely usable [Ginevra Peruginelli, 2016. p.109]. The potential solution is to provide an “official one-stop legal information website” which contains all legal information within a jurisdiction [Mitee, 2017. p1]. This would allow the user to easily find information they are looking for and eliminate the risk of coming across false information.

Accessibility is also about raising awareness; just having access to reams of information available online is not beneficial if the user cannot be directed to the right information to help them or does not know of its existence. Various reports have highlighted ‘that more needs to be done to advertise the availability of legal aid and mediation, and wider legal support options’ [The Ministry of Justice, 2019. p12; The Law Society, 2018; The Law Society, 2017; House of Commons Justice Committee, 2015]. Increasing accessibility to justice can be as simple as encouraging people through technology to check if they have legal expenses insurance which is often sold as an add on to home or car insurance policies [Barbara Likulunga, 2017]. If they are covered then users could access advice centres and law firms to provide access to justice which they otherwise could not afford. Simply raising awareness in this way can improve the “justice deficit” where those who cannot afford to pay are effectively denied access to justice [Zuckerman, 2014. p82].

There is also a lack of technological innovations aimed at making legal services more accessible, they are largely focused on the commercial sector and then adapted for a new purpose. [The Law Society, 2019. p11]. There are applicable areas where technology has transformed the delivery of early support services such as the central collation of early support for health problems through the Health A-Z on NHS.uk [The Ministry of Justice, 2019. p21]. The legal tech sector could adopt a similar approach for early support in ‘diagnosing’ legal issues in the same way or even through guided-pathways.

Related themes

Case studies

References

1. Barbara Likulunga, ‘Opinion: Comment: Claiming on expenses’ [2017] Law Society Gazette 9(2)

2. House of Commons Justice Committee, (2015) Impact of changes to civil legal aid under part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012

3. 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)

4. Peruginelli, G (2016) Law Belongs to the People: Access to Law and Justice. Legal Information Management [online]. [Accessed 30 June 2020]

5. Schauer, Frederick and Wise, Virginia.  (1997) Legal Information as Social Capital.  Law Library Journal 99(2), 267-284. https://www.aallnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Vol-99-pub_llj_v99n02-2007-16.pdf

6. The Law Society (2017), Response of the Law Society of England and Wales to the Civil Justice Council ADR Working Group Interim Report

7. The Law Society, (2018) Submission of evidence to the Ministry of Justice’s LASPO Part 1 post implementation review

8. The Law Society, ‘Technology, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law’ [2019] The Law Society  (Date accessed: 11/03/2020) https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/research-trends/technology-access-to-justice-rule-of-law-report/

9. The Ministry of Justice, Legal Support: The Way Ahead. An Action plan to deliver better support to people experiencing legal problems. (February 2019)

10. Tibor Tajti, ‘The impact of technology on access to law and the concomitant repercussions: past, present, and the future’ (from the 1980s to present time) [2019] Uniform Law Review 24.2

11. Zuckerman, A. (2014) ‘No justice without lawyers – the myth of an inquisitorial solution’, in Civil Justice Quarterly, 2014, 33(4). Bristol: Jordan Publishing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *