Following a call to action from Catherine Bamford, I built a couple of things in Docassemble, that I presented at the A2J LegalTech Charity Breakfast v2.0 in Sheffield on 19th November (slidedeck). This article goes into a bit more detail about what I built and why.
I recently spent some time at the Sheffield branch of Support Through Court (previously the PSU) learning about the kind of challenges Litigants in Person are facing when trying to navigate our court system.
There’s a lot of work going on currently around modernising the courts system, including the idea of matters being handled through online courts, and the challenges that come with that such as:
“low rates of internet usage and poor digital skills, as well as literacy barriers and other disadvantages faced by particular groups.” – Court and Tribunal reforms, Second Report of Session 2019, 31/10/2019
From the time I spent with the STC team, it became clear to me that there is a great deal that the legal and tech communities can do today to support charities such as STC as they do their best to help Litigants in Person through our court system.
The people accessing services such as STC are by and large not using any online submission tools (where available) because they lack consistent access to the internet or a device to access it from. They therefore opt to complete paper forms.
As a starting point, working with the STC team, I’ve built helpers using Docassemble to allow Litigants in Person to complete either an N244 Form, or make a Witness Statement. Docassemble (as the name suggests) allows you to assemble documents using guided interviews – as well as a ton of other things. Docassemble is awesome – if you haven’t come across it yet you should check it out!
The idea initially is that these tools can be used by teams on the A2J frontline, to help LIP complete forms more easily, and in the long run (after they’ve been improved through feedback) deployed for others to use remotely where they may be able to access an internet cafe, but not a physical office location, and telephone support through a guided interview could be provided.
The Guided Interviews
You can try out the guided interviews (and see the resulting documents) using the links below:
I’ve added both interviews to a single Docassemble package called hmctshelper. The package is freely available through both PyPi and Github for others to use and ideally improve.
The Call to Action
The legal+legalTech community as a whole is keen to help with A2J, but we don’t always seem to know how. If you want to get involved with this project, this is what is needed.
You could provide some examples of what a “good” witness/evidence statement looks like for a variety of scenarios (divorce, money claims, eviction etc.). This will give LIP a better understanding of what is expected from them.
You could offer to spend some time at your local frontline A2J charity and see what else we could build that would help. Build it and add it to the repos above. Improve the existing helpers too!
You could improve the questions so they make sense to someone who left High School with a D in English rather than a Doctorate (Docassemble has tools built in to generate readabillty scores).
People supporting LIP (such as Support Through Court)
You could have your teams use the interviews with LIP, obtain user feedback and improve them, so in the future we can make them available online to people who cannot visit your offices for support.
Doing these things will help to address the barriers to accessing digital services described in Court and Tribunal reforms, Second Report of Session 2019, 31/10/2019 and hopefully by making it easier for court paperwork to be completed, mean that charities such as STC can help more people.