The UK Government is increasing the use of technology in the justice system in England and Wales. While digital technology is regarded as an integral part of everyday life, and remote, virtual and online proceedings bring benefits to some people, research shows that certain groups of people do not have access, or are unable to use, digital processes.
In September, we submitted to the UK Parliament Justice Select Committee Inquiry. Our submission included evidence on the social and economic implications of the digital transformation of the court estate and access to justice, and recommendations for human rights measures the UK Government could take to ensure no one is disproportionately affected or disadvantaged by it.
Human rights and access to justice
Human rights are an essential part of access to justice. Social and economic rights are afforded to all without discrimination and are included in a number of international human rights standards that successive UK Governments voluntarily ratified and with which the UK Government is obliged to comply. In particular, the UK has ratified seven legally binding international human rights treaties which relate to economic and social rights and protect all people.
The digitisation of the justice system needs to have human rights at its core in order to adequately respond to the needs of the population and ensure that all people including those with protected characteristics are not discriminated against.
Digitisation of the justice system must be focused on ensuring fair access to justice for all.
Highlights from our submission
The following points are highlights from our evidence on the economic and social rights implications of the digital transformation of the court estate:
- Evidence suggests that the combination of digital exclusion in a digital justice system, together with limited legal and welfare advice, violates the UK Government’s obligation to respect, protect, and fulfil the right to mental and physical health of all people without discrimination. The UK Government’s failure to take steps to resolve the problems caused by Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) is regressive. It is widely documented that certain groups of people who are disadvantaged and marginalised by the digital divide are those people who are disproportionately affected by the introduction of LASPO. The digital transformation of the court estate must be accompanied by adequate legal advice.
- Use of remote, virtual, and online proceedings is expanding across the justice system. Restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in the use of digital processes in the justice system.
- Evidence suggests that as a public body, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is failing to comply with the principle of non-discrimination, as it “has not taken sufficient steps to address the needs of vulnerable users, particularly as regards an absence of adequate legal advice and support”. UK Government’s budgetary decisions around the digitisation of the justice system, must comply with human rights obligations, even in times of economic crisis.
See all of our policy recommendations here.
To read our full submission click here.
For more information contact our Campaigns and Advocacy Lead, Misha Nayak-Oliver.