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Online Criminal Court Plans Spark Controversy

March 15, 2017 by Kelly No Comments »

The government’s plans for an inline criminal court have provoked controversy and criticism. The harshest critic is justice charity Transform Justice, which has attached many aspects of the government’s proposals in a statement released today.

Among the key concerns that Transform Justice has expressed is that “very few measures in the whole bill have been subject to formal consultation,” which runs counter to accepted best practices in the creation of government policy. In its briefing, the charity also criticises the proposals for being poorly-costed and for having used weak evidence as its basis.

The charity also questioned the governments claims that the proposals, which are contained in the Prisons and Courts Bill, would improve access to justice and the quality of justice. “It is asserted,” the briefing says, “that they will make the system more just, proportionate and accessible, but without any supporting research or data, and without citing research which may suggest the contrary.” Transform Justice went on to say that the results of a pilot scheme showed none of the advantages the government has claimed its proposals would bring. Rather, the use of a virtual court in the pilot scheme made it more difficult for lawyers and clients to communicate effectively, and increased the cost of justice processes compared to a traditional courtroom.

Furthermore, the pilot suggested that the digital court might increase the number of guilty pleas and result in longer sentences being issued. Transform Justice was particularly concerned about the suggestion of allowing people charged with offences that do not carry a prison sentence to enter a guilty plea and accept a penalty online. The charity was concerned this might encourage more people to plead guilty without properly understanding the implications of doing so, such as the fact they would be left with a formal criminal record.

The charity stressed that its criticisms of the online courts were not intended as an attempt to stand in the way of progress. In its briefing, it agrees emphatically that the UK’s court system is in need of being “brought into the digital age,” and suggests a number of measures that could help achieve this. For example, it suggests that information and documents should be made available digitally, and that email and text reminders could be sent to defendants ahead of court appearances.

However, the charity was sceptical not just about the government’s specific proposals, but about the entire concept of digital hearings. Specifically, it questioned whether they were actually necessary, insisting that appearing in person at a physical court would be preferable for many witnesses and defendants and that, even following waves of closures, there would be no shortage of courtrooms.

 

App Considered as Way to Improve Justice Access

June 15, 2016 by Kelly No Comments »

AppA downloadable app is being considered as a possible way to improve public access to justice. A recent report from Hackney Community Law Centre proposes a number of possible solutions to make justice more accessible, including the possibility of an app.

The report, Finding Better Problems for Better Solutions, was revealed at Hackney Town Hall. The release of the report formed part of a “digital summit” held at that venue recently. The Law Centre’s suggestion of an app follows a number of other recent suggestions to improve access to justice through the use of digital solutions, including online advice platforms and even fully-online courts.

Mark Brown, development director at Social Spider CIC and co-author of the report, said that such an app could help solve problems with the accessibility of justice. In particular, Brown said that those who have legal problems are often reluctant to seek professional advice in person, and consider a legal professional “the last person” they would like to speak to about the issues they are facing.

According to the report, “push” information would be used to keep the app updated with the latest and most accurate legal advice. It would also have the advantage, the report says, of being available at any time when somebody wishes to seek advice.

Hackney Law Centre has some familiarity with digital legal solutions, as the area has had a fair amount of involvement with digital law initiatives that have taken place in the past. For example, Hackney participated in a digital pilot which provided a direct and easily-accessible route through which members of the public could contact and get advice from barristers. Furthermore, in partnership with Legal Geek, Hackney helped bring about the “Hackathon” – an initiative which sees developers and legal professionals working intensively to develop innovative technology solutions for the legal sector. The second such event is due to take place later in 2016, and will specifically focus on the matter of providing access to justice.

The report also suggested that a better process should be developed for the provision of advice by email. The report also states that the working processes involved in this need to be better coordinated in order to more effectively make use of the time given by volunteers.

The report said: “Currently, while there may be people willing to volunteer their time to assist in delivering advice services in the borough, their ability to contribute their time is limited by a mismatch between the times they are available and the times that advice services providers are available to enable them.”