Assisted digital justice


This project examines the impact of digital court infrastructure on access to justice and considers the support structures necessary to assist those at risk of digital exclusion.


Project background and aims

In September 2016 the Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice, and the Senior President of Tribunals of England and Wales released a joint vision for the future of Courts and Tribunals. Central to this vision was a series of new online courts and court services that would see Courts and Tribunal services adopt a digital-by-default policy for service delivery. Recent proposals acknowledge that not everyone will be able to engage with digital processes, with the Government Digital Service (GDS) estimating that 14% of the UK population does not have access to the Internet, whilst 7% of those with access, do not use the Internet in a way that benefits them day-to-day. However, whilst the debate regarding the appropriateness of online models of dispute resolution continues, implementation has already proceeded based on the expectation that the public will in time adapt to online service modalities, with or without ‘Assisted Digital Support’ (ADS).

ADS describes the help provided to users who experience some form of digital exclusion – whether this exclusion takes the form of an inability to access, or an inability to interact with/navigate digital services. ADS provision is an obligation incumbent upon each Department developing a service, yet despite the breadth of ADS required (and in some cases already implemented), there exists little evidence to inform the process of design and development. This includes information as to the form that support should take, how this support should vary across certain user groups, the likely level of service take-up, and the financial sustainability of planned ADS initiatives. This project address this gap empirically, looking at: the type of ADS services required; the likely demand of such services; the models of support that might be appropriate for users, and; summarising lessons drawn from ADS implementations outside of justice, so as to inform policy development in the field.


This study draws on new quantitative analysis 2014/15 Legal Problem Resolution Survey (LPRS) data - a telephone survey of the experience of, and response to a broad range civil, administrative and family legal problems which captured information from 10,058 adults in England and Wales – to estimate potential ADS take-up, examine the impact of various models of ADS delivery and define the appropriate form and scope of ADS. It additionally analyses new data manually extracted from 239 GDS service assessments and 12 HMCTS/MoJ self-assessments, which are performed to evaluate a service’s adherence to the GDS Standard prior to launch.


Findings reveal concerns surrounding current ADS design and delivery in England and Wales, and the potential impact on access to justice posed by a digital-by-default agenda. Whilst analysis reveals that those who report 1+ civil justice problem/s are associated with higher rates of Internet access, willingness and capability than those who do not report a problem, certain socio-demographic characteristics are associated with higher rates of digital exclusion. The findings distinguish between measures of digital capability and legal capability, and observe how both forms are required to successfully navigate an online court. The study concludes with a recommendation that any framework designed to underpin service monitoring must go beyond simple usage metrics, to incorporate dimensions of service sustainability and user experience, particularly the seamlessness and efficacy of the services deployed. It recommends further research and urges caution in relying upon feedback from iterative user-testing with small non-representative focus groups in place of methodologically robust, independent and publicly accessible methods of service evaluation.