Up to four million library users will be able to access free legal advice via webcams. Birmingham and Westminster city councils are teaming up with Instant Law, which recently launched its first video conferencing kiosk in a shopping centre before Christmas. The pilot service – which will include a direct link to www.thejusticegap.com – goes live on March 5th.
Library users will be able use a simple set-up menu on a dedicated computer screen in a secure location in the library to talk directly to a specialist lawyer who will be able to give them advice and help over a range of subjects including immigration, employment, landlord and family issues. The initial consultation will be free to visitors. One of the screen options that users will be offered is to link directly to www.thejusticegap.com.
Meanwhile, a new study focusing on innovation in the deregulated legal services market was published by Jures (www.jures.co.uk) this week. The report called Brave New Worlds: New thinking in legal services was written by www.thejusticegap.com editor Jon Robins. ‘For all the legions of column inches devoted to the Legal Services Act across the legal and business press, these reforms are less about lawyers and more about consumers,’ comments David Edmonds, the first chair of the Legal Services Board in the report’s introduction. ‘The old ownership restrictions created artificial monopolies. For many consumers, this meant that engaging a lawyer was unaffordable, or at least felt unaffordable.’
‘There is much talk about how the newly competitive legal services market will deliver for the consumer and promote ‘access to justice’… so far there is scant evidence to support any such claims,’ commented Jon Robins; adding that was ‘refreshing to see innovative lawyers taking free legal advice to ordinary people through our libraries’. ‘Despite what this government seems to think libraries are at the heart of many communities. We’re delighted to be involved in any scheme that promotes access to justice to an increasing section of the public who would otherwise regard the law as a luxury that they cannot afford.’
Providing ‘additional, vital and useful services to our library users is part of our continuing strategy’, commented Douglas Laird, business development manager at Birmingham Central Library. ‘We feel that there is a gap in the market for an easy to access and use legal advice service and the in-library computer-based solution provided by Instant Law UK fills this gap.’
Ian Dodd, who heads up Instant Law UK, said: ‘Most libraries offer a wide range of IT services and connections to the internet for people who can’t access it at home or during the day at work. Combining this and immediate access to a lawyer to discuss possibly sensitive matters privately and securely without the need to make an appointment with the lawyer allows everyone to access justice and turns that into a consumer-driven service.’
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award