I blogged here about the Ministry of Justice’s program of cuts and, ahem, reform. You can read the program at the Ministry’s own website here.
This element of the reform of courts and legal aid struck me, as reinforced by a tweet from Richard Moorhead of @lawyerwatch .
Develop options for using technology and alternative dispute resolution to reduce attendance at all courts.
The intention is to commence consultancy in September 2010, concluding April 2011.
As Richard so eloquently put it, is this the “Usual blether about ADR, IT and efficiency?”
The point of Lawyer1point9 is to be curious, provocative and positive about technology and law. It is not for me to play the luddite and smash the machines. I do not want to get in the way of progress and technological innovation within the legal system.
But something worries me here.
IT cannot be used as shorthand justification for cost-cutting.
If we run headlong into IT based solutions then we risk prejudicing whole sectors of the public. Some would be hit twice.
The cuts in legal aid availability and eligibility are massive, and ongoing. Many vulnerable people have no access to affordable legal advice or representation. It is not enough to say to those people “Oh, that’s okay, we’ve implemented innovative technology.”
And this is where the new social divide is emerging.
It is no longer the haves and the have nots. We need to be aware of the cans and the cannots.
We take our own IT skills and familiarity for granted. If you are reading this thing called a blog, the reality is that you are way ahead of the massive majority.
Many of the people who will be affected by reforming cuts will lack skills, confidence and competence to access online resources.
This has been highlighted to me by a couple of incidents.
Last week I was trying to talk through to someone, by phone, how to download a PDF.
We were getting nowhere. I realised that she was putting the web address I was giving her into the google search box and getting bewildered by pages and pages of entries, as opposed to going to the address bar.
To many people, Google IS the internet.
Even when we got through to the page she wanted, the idea of scrolling the page down to get to the necessary link was way beyond her.
In another incident I delivered some of my Conversational Riffs training to a local education authority last week. I like to put the notes into a passworded blog format so that people can wrestle with the material, comment upon it.
The email I got back from the LEA explained that many people simply were not allowed to access blogs because of local authority firewalls and the like.
So, a cost-cutting dash to IT is not the answer. We need to keep a broader awareness of what people are able to do and the limits they face from inadequate skills or access to IT.
If we do not, then we risk excluding the less IT literate and the less IT connected from important parts of society.
We will have the cans and cannots. Who will speak up for the latter?