Helping the digitally excluded

Date: 
05 June 2018

Legal rights group JUSTICE has set out ‘practical and achievable’ recommendations to help those left behind as the justice system embraces digital technology.

Those who are unfamiliar with technology, or lack the skills or resources required to access it, could be ‘digitally excluded’ from the justice system, according to the JUSTICE report Preventing digital exclusion from online justice, published this week. High-risk groups include detainees and the homeless. Others may face difficulties because they live in areas with low broadband speeds, making it difficult to download forms, or are simply uninterested in going online. Some older people do not have helpers who they can trust.

A JUSTICE working party has been looking at the issue of the digitally excluded since last autumn, following Lord Justice Briggs’ Civil Courts Structure Review, which estimated that 70% of the UK population may need support to engage in proceedings online.

Currently, the Ministry of Justice is forging ahead with plans to introduce an online court for low-value civil claims and intends to automate and digitise all civil money claims by 2020, with an interactive triage system for litigants in person. Tribunals and criminal proceedings will also make greater use of online procedures and virtual hearings.

JUSTICE make 19 recommendations, mainly directed at HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), which already runs a project to provide support through telephone, web chat or face-to-face advice, Assisted Digital.

It calls on HMCTS to conduct more research into how people access online services, and to invest further in digital skills training and support in venues such as community organisations and libraries. Other recommendations include ensuring online justice services can be accessed on mobile technology and designing services with accessibility and simplicity in mind.

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.’

Writing in this week’s NLJ, Roger Smith, NLJ columnist & former director of JUSTICE, notes ‘there are signs that the senior judiciary, having initially backed the modernisation programme, are beginning to be a bit more sceptical’.

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