Technology and Innovation

have often been mooted as a solution to access justice challenges, for example, through online courts, case management techniques, different forms for automation review, and legal information and literacy apps.

These technologies can deliver access to justice by making it more economical, productive and open. One of the challenges of making technologies work is communicating to different audiences of users in terms of language, mediums, and designs. Unpacking the design in legal content to make it understandable assumes importance if we think of the scale and practicality of the content.

Measuring a justice gap is often subject to different interpretations. We undoubtedly see that whether on matters related to knowledge, finance, custom, identities or capabilities, there are deeply rooted barriers that prevent the development of processes to ensure access to justice.

Members of the legal profession must now realise that people-centred justice solutions focus on  understanding people’s needs and designing reflective solutions.

It also calls for a more open and collaborative way of working that engages with other sectors like health and education, and the ultimate objective is to make justice suitable for all. When addressing access to justice, a peoplecentred approach to justice is welcome because it acknowledges the significance of understanding the material realities, diversities and contexts of people who engage with the justice system across the world.

The way forward is to prevent injustices while also creating opportunities for people to participate more openly and fully in different processes.

Language Barrier

When we think of conveying the law to the broader community, we must find ways to translate legal content into everyday language.

The language and medium commonly used to communicate the law also result in a barrier to justice for the laypeople who tend to have difficulty understanding the language of the law in how it is written. It is time for legal professionals to think about how the law is communicated and shared legal information. Through constructing complexity, different legal instruments create power structures where only those vested with the capacity to read the law are competent enough to use it and apply it.

And yet, the law is very much designed to order and impact the everyday life of citizens, who have to understand the intricacies of these instruments to safeguard themselves, whether concerning constitutional rights leaving a will or buying and selling a property. Providing legal content that can be useful and usable for citizens is fundamental to enabling their participation and involvement in the legal system. This is also a core element of access to justice.

Essentially, the method of presenting the law must be in a manner that considers whether those impacted by it will find it understandable and impactful.

Most legal content in our official legal system is in the form of text. However, if we speculate upon how people interpret legal content, textual medium is just one of many possibilities. With the advent of technology, the medium through which legal content is delivered has substantially increased.

If the law is to be used and understood, the communication medium should be selected based on convenience, opportunity, and need preferences. A common feature of most textual mediums is that they are synonymous with detail and technicality.

Communicating the Law

When the objective is to promote access to justice and legal awareness, the legal content should adopt adequate mediums and forms and not solely textual medium.

If the law is to be used and understood, the communication medium should be selected based on convenience, opportunity, and need preferences. A common feature of most textual mediums is that they are synonymous with detail and technicality.

Legal design is a set of tools to design better products and better communicate legal information to users, stakeholders and citizens. While there is still the use of text, it is clear that the medium to communicate legal content is interactive and engaging. Sketching images from human-centred design to develop legal documents that serve the needs of people can be helpful.

Using avenues for interpretation by lawyers or translations by other experts is not enough because the content is designed to facilitate the legal industry and not the needs of lay citizens. It would be entirely contradictory for advocating principles of access to justice when such principles are delivered in a language that is exclusionary and in mediums that require translation and interpretation.

Perhaps, what is required is that the legal content must emerge from responding to the needs of citizens for particular kinds of documentation.

To do so, we have to observe how individual disputes play out and the barriers to access to justice. Based on this understanding, those producing legal content should then create samples of different kinds of legal documentation but, before finalising it, should test whether such content works.

The nature of legal documentation and content must take on a more iterative approach, wherein it is not built for perpetuity but instead responds and is reflexive of the needs and behaviours of the users.

Zaynab Mirasahib

Barrister at Law | Avocate