We have been looking at the series of recommendations for reform put forward by the Civil Justice Action Group in Scotland - and considering why the questions raised might be of wider interest. The first article can be found here. The CJAG was responding to the Gill Review.
One of the more general recommendations of the Gill Review was the need for individuals to have access to a regularly reviewed and updated source of information and advice to help deal with legal disputes. In its response, CJAG criticise this approach as seriously underplaying the potentially sophisticated role that technology can now play within the civil justice system.
CJAG point to computer systems, such as the Community Legal Advice website in England and Wales, which are able to collate information received from an individual and provide tailored responses. The vast amounts of information available online provide answers to many legal queries, however the reliability and accuracy of the information varies greatly depending on its source. There is no doubt that a centralised, trusted source of information would greatly improve access to justice for individuals. However for businesses, many of whom are well informed and advised, web-based systems may have a wider part to play.
The reality of many disputes is that one side of the dispute does not properly understand their legal position. That can be true even if they have legal assistance. So anything that helps to educate those who think they have a dispute can only help. The challenge is to ensure that contributors to any central system can contribute without too many layers of bureaucracy, while at the same time allowing the site to respond quickly to updates and developments in the law. While they tend to be commercial operations, organisations such as Practical Law Company which provides up-to-date guidance for corporate and commercial lawyers, demonstrate that very sophisticated systems can be built.
What we can see is that there are systems which can provide a service for individuals who use the law. The question then becomes: who is going to pay for that system, and who is going to moderate the content?
The answer may be the government or the judiciary. The judiciary already provide case reports. Why not use those case reports to develop a central repository of statements of the law. This might even help to make written judgments shorter as the judges can just cross reference to the existing statements of the law. If they disagree with the existing statement of the law then the existing statement can be amended. While these thoughts might be regarded as science fiction, we have to remember that many of the technologies that we see now were science fiction not that many years ago.