London, June 2018 – On Monday 4th June 2018, JUSTICE launched its latest Working Party report, Preventing digital exclusion from online justice. JUSTICE’s Working Party was concerned about the wide range of digitally excluded people – such as those without access to technology or with low digital capability.
An ambitious programme of court reforms is already underway in England and Wales. Virtual, remote and online proceedings are set to expand across the justice system.
Though modernisation has potential to improve the justice system, her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (“HMCTS”) recognise that many people will need ongoing digital support to access 21st century justice. Technology is taken for granted by many, but some are left behind – despite past efforts to improve digital skills and expand free internet access. Justice reforms make tackling this problem an even more urgent priority than before.
Speaking at the launch of Preventing digital exclusion from online justice, Lord Briggs of Westbourne, Justice of the UK Supreme Court, said that the report took a positive approach to changes like the “Online Court” while seeking to ensure that access to justice is available for everybody. He focussed on several of the Working Party’s recommendations – including the importance of: mobile technology, an independent ‘look and feel’ for online justice, the multi-channel approach, end-to-end piloting and robust academic research. Lord Briggs praised JUSTICE’s report as the first to look at Assisted Digital in detail – and, typically of JUSTICE, produced in good time to inform all future stages of the reforms. He welcomed the Working Party’s approach of highlighting particular groups – giving their difficulties with digital separate treatment, with no assumption that the paper channel will be the default for all of the “digitally excluded”.
Andrea Coomber, Director of JUSTICE, explains, “We must address digital exclusion to unlock all the benefits of 21st century justice services. JUSTICE has previously advocated for user-centred reforms to make justice more accessible. Our Working Party’s report recognises the importance of Assisted Digital support – especially for the most hard-to-reach.”
The Working Party looked at various groups at high risk of digital exclusion from modernised justice services – including homeless people and detainees. It also investigated how assistive technology and accessible design could play a part in minimising barriers facing the “computer challenged”. HMCTS services to provide technical support, i.e. its “Assisted Digital” project, were considered in some detail.
With the benefit of evidence from a wide range of expert consultees, and working with HMCTS throughout, Working Party members have formulated practical recommendations for change.
Amanda Finlay CBE, Chair of the Working Party, said, “Preventing digital exclusion from online justice will require a continuing programme of learning from users’ needs and experience to improve Assisted Digital support and the Online Court itself. Inclusive, user friendly design and creative thinking will make online justice better for all users. Our recommendations are deliberately practical and achievable and we hope they will be implemented.” The report makes 19 recommendations in total – mostly directed at HMCTS.
- 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.
- 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.
The Working Party was generously supported by Freshfields and Pagefield Global Counsel. Director of JUSTICE, Andrea Coomber, opened the report launch, followed by the Chair of the Working Party, Amanda Finlay CBE, and Lord Briggs of Westbourne, Justice of the UK Supreme Court.