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Access To Justice (Part 1)

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“…Three major problems confront those interested in developing access to justice tech. Poor people don’t by definition have any money so they can’t pay for services in the same way as commercial users. Even reducing prices to ve(ry) low levels may not be enough for those totally without resources. And, traditionally, work in the access to justice sector is undertaken by a disparate and largely uncoordinated mix of law centres, advice agencies and legal aid practitioners who work on a shoestring; the area is now hit by government austerity cuts; and, perhaps as a result, little has been recorded in a form which would provide workable data on which technology could get a grip. And finally we have to deal with issues often called the digital divide.”

The aforementioned sentiments expressed by Roger Smith at The University of Ulster Legal Innovation Centre (published March 20, 2019) solidly underline the problems that challenge the innovation of the legal system giving unrestricted, free access to legal information, advice and services. As his speech was more on the subject of legal industries in developed countries, one may wonder what the context of a developing country would appear to be.

Researcher Beatrice Pouligny wrote, “[I]n many contexts, the local law is nothing more than a paper somewhere which has nothing to due (sic) with the reality and the informal rules that have been developed, along with the[ir] history, by the population.”

The Caribbean would debatably fall into this category given its own history and access to (or lack of) resources. There have been progressive steps to pool resources and funding together so that the region can have autonomy of its own judiciary system, creating a regionalized alternative to the Privy Council – the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). In an article titled “CCJ will ensure access to justice for Jamaicans”, then-Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller remarked that the cost of lawyers and their clients having to obtain visas to visit one of the available appellate courts in the UK was not cost-effective or very productive, and that seeking the services of a lawyer in the UK was out of financial reach for many Jamaicans. Senator Mark Golding, then Justice Minister, is also quoted as stating that the CCJ was accessible for the regular citizen and utilized current technologies that would aid in the Court’s ability to try various cases filed by member countries on their home soil by travelling to them. One case tried by the court that the article makes noteworthy mention of is that of Shanique Myrie v Barbados, in that Miss Myrie was awarded $3.6 million after ruling that her right to enter Barbados as a CARICOM national was breached. Another important case would be that of the British Caribbean Bank (BCB) v The Government of Belize, where a dispute arose regarding loans owed by Belize. The Belize Court of Appeal ruled in favour Belize of halting an injunction that was later granted by the CCJ upon BCB’s second attempt at appeal. This ruling earned the CCJ the “Most Important Published Decision” award, presented to them by the Global Arbitration Review in 2013.

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