Hacking barriers to justice 101

Posted on October 16, 2018 Under All 3 Comments

By Crystal Holt

What do you get when you stick six law students and a cyber security professional in a tiny meeting room for 34 hours, fuelled by sugar, instant noodles and coffee? An innovative and user-friendly app that increases access to justice for those who have realised at last minute that they may need an interpreter to understand complex legal terminology in court.

This problem is all too common in Australian courts, namely the Supreme Court of NSW. A person will come before the court, wrongly believing that they understand an adequate amount of English to undertake proceedings. This problem is compounded by the fact that some may not want to bear the significant cost burden that comes with hiring an interpreter for an entire case. But quickly, this person may realise that, although they understand the majority of the proceedings, they are struggling to understand a specific part of the proceedings. In this case, the court may choose, for example, to simply explain in several different ways what an injunction is, but if this isn’t done correctly it could lead to appeals down the road. The other option is adjourning at the expense of the court until an interpreter can be sourced, which can typically take weeks, if not months.

This is the issue that the ANU Team ‘hACTivate’ aimed to resolve at the 2018 Innovate Law Hackathon. The Hackathon isn’t as scary as it seems. It’s not about hacking mainframes or bringing down servers; it is about hacking social justice issues within the legal system. So often we face issues in the legal profession that could be resolved through disrupting the field by developing modern technologies. Although it may not be the place for courts to be investing tax payers’ money in novel artificial intelligence or risky technological platforms, it is possible for the courts to utilise well established, secure technologies to ensure that we all have access to justice within our legal system.

From left: Deanna Constable of Lander and Rogers, representative of the Law Society of NSW, Chief Justice Bathurst of the NSW Supreme Court, Sam Exell, Christina Lee, Anneka Atley, Crystal Holt, Jeremiah Go, Jacob Wong and Kelvin Zhou.

‘Interpret Now’ is a platform where lawyers, litigants or court officials are connected with interpreters on demand. It streamlines the process of finding an interpreter by providing a simple, user-friendly app that provides the real-time availability of interpreters nearby. It allows for the interpreter to register their language, location and availability regularly, so that when a request is made a real-time solution is available. After a request is sent, the interpreter accepts and provides the service immediately, either in person or through video conferencing. This is the solution my team – comprised of Anneka Atley, Christina Lee, Jacob Wong, Jeremiah Go, Sam Exell, Kelvin Zhou and myself – presented to the New South Wales Supreme Court, and won the 2018 Innovate Law Hackathon with.

Technology is something that has created a huge amount of fear and stir in the legal community in the past couple decades. From the fax machine to smart contracts, lawyers are still grappling with how to use technology to best advantage the justice system. Dr Philippa Ryan, a visiting Fellow at the ANU from UTS, believes that systems like blockchain could go so far as to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals. New technologies provide an opportunity for innovation and development in the legal system, so long as we are open to them.

As law students in 2018, it is our place to ensure we are educated and informed on the issues surrounding modern technologies, to avoid being left behind as our profession modernises. We should not see this as a threat to our livelihoods or job security, but as an opportunity to use technology as a resource to improve and streamline our profession, making it more accessible, effective, and just.

Hackathons are an opportunity to see what the law of the future looks like. To create disruption. To create change. We are so excited to see the positive impacts Interpret Now will have on access to justice, by providing vital interpretation services to those in need, exactly when they need it, on demand. We implore all ANU law students to get involved in a hackathon at some point in their legal journey, and to open your mind to the amazing opportunities that legal technology provides us.