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The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs (G3ict) Statement to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Leveraging Technology for Greater Access to Justice

GENEVA (February 13, 2018) —

The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs (G3ict) applauds the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for its focus on access to justice for persons with disabilities through the work of its staff, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Human Rights Council (HRC).

The recently published advanced edited version of the OHCHR report on the Right to Access to Justice under Article 13 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) clearly lays out the legal basis for access to justice. The report details how persons with disabilities today continue to face significant obstacles to accessing justice and underlines the CRPD principle that “equal and effective participation at all stages of and within every role within the justice system” is core to access to justice. As the report states, access to justice is often denied due to a lack of accessibility and access to information. G3ict emphatically agrees with the report’s assertion that the use of accessible information and communications technologies (ICTs) can contribute to improving access to justice worldwide and there is a significant role for new technologies.

G3ict believes both existing and emerging technologies are an underutilized tool for promoting access to justice for persons with disabilities. Today courts and justice systems worldwide are increasingly investing in technology to achieve efficiencies and cost savings. For example, the State Court of Justice of Sao Paulo, the biggest in South America and one of the biggest in the world, has 50,000 employees and serves 50 million citizens. It has implemented a comprehensive technology plan to modernize the court and make it more efficient, including by requiring all judicial processes be conducted and stored digitally. Citizens can conduct simple court services from their own technology devices and judges and attorneys can access case information remotely.

Mainstream digital transformations of courts and justice systems, like this Sao Paulo example, are taking place in many geographies around the world (e.g., the United Kingdom, Dubai, and Buenos Aires). These transformations, while targeting efficiencies and cost savings, can also promote inclusion and access to justice for persons with disabilities if the investments are in technologies that are accessible.

In addition, existing technologies can be used in innovative ways to promote access to justice for persons with disabilities. The state of Alaska in the United States, is a leader in using technology to enable remote court appearances via video or by telephone in court proceedings by parties, lawyers, and sometimes the judge. This type of video remote participation is also available for sign language interpreters for people who are deaf.

We can now envision creating innovative access to justice solutions using new and emerging technologies. For example, The CRPD Committee has raised concerns about the lack of available free legal aid to persons with disabilities. In the United States, the Legal Services Corporation and Pro Bono Net have announced the development of a prototype access to justice portal that will draw on state-of-the-art cloud and Internet technologies. The portal will enable people to navigate the court system and legal aid resources, learn about their legal rights, and prepare and file critical court documents in a way that is comprehensive and easy to navigate. With advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence, it is possible to imagine systems that allow people to speak naturally and receive help in a comfortable “chat” format tailored to their specific needs and abilities, including for example, people with visual, intellectual, and developmental disabilities.

G3ict believes seven interrelated strategies can help states parties leverage technology to support greater access to justice for persons with disabilities.

  • Recognition and Awareness: Governments should explicitly recognize that implementing technology solutions in courts and justice systems can do more than simply increase efficiencies and reduce costs. When digital transformations are executed with a specific focus on accessibility, they can also facilitate an increased, direct, and more independent participation of persons with disabilities in courtroom proceedings in all roles (e.g. parties to a case, lawyers, judges, jurors, etc.). Standards and guidelines for judicial processes and procedures should be expanded and revised to include explicit accessibility requirements.
  • Procurement of Accessible Technology: Accessible ICTs and courtroom technologies can be used broadly to advance equality and non-discrimination for persons with disabilities and support their access to justice. Governments can act as a 1) purchaser of courtroom and legal technology and as a 2) regulator in using the “power of the purse” to advance equality for courtroom technology. Implementing mandatory procurement policies that incorporate accessibility-related requirements into calls for tenders for technology products and services ensures that digital transformation in courts and justice systems narrows the digital divide for persons with disabilities and increases their access to justice.
  • Mainstream inclusion into legal frameworks: The CRPD states in its preamble that mainstreaming disability issues in all frameworks is an integral part of relevant strategies of sustainable development. As part of their CRPD commitments, governments can identify amendments to existing legislation and opportunities for new legislation and regulation that promote the adoption of accessible technology in courts and judicial systems and that support broader and deeper access to justice for persons with disabilities.
  • Identify and Define Good Practices: We are still in the early stages of a global trend toward the digital transformation of courts and justice systems. This gives governments and the global community, including civil society, international organizations, and industry, an excellent opportunity to better understand how best to leverage technology investments to promote greater digital inclusion for persons with disabilities. Identifying both good practices and challenges can support building roadmaps to increased ICT accessibility and broader access to justice.
  • Capacity Building: Courts and justice systems worldwide need guidance in identifying ICT accessibility gaps and clearly articulating accessibility priorities. Leaders and staff in courts and justice systems would benefit from technical assistance to better design and implement ICT accessibility strategies that support digital inclusion. Training should promote an understanding of how both existing and emerging technologies can be leveraged to promote greater access. Training should include involvement of a broad range of citizens and organizations, including from the disability community.
  • Support Inclusive Innovation: Leveraging technology to increase access will require infusing inclusion, accessibility, and universal design into the innovation and incubation of new courtroom and legal technology solutions. Governments should commit to supporting the development and deployment of new and emerging technology solutions that both benefit courts and justice systems and that also are inclusive of all persons. Developing new technology solutions to benefit persons with disabilities will require government leaders, civil society and technology experts joining together to create conditions for a more citizen-driven and inclusive innovation process.
  • Commitment to Inclusive Investments: Multilateral organizations (e.g. United Nations, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, etc.) along with national development agencies and leading foundations play a significant role in defining and promoting access to justice programs worldwide. Their lending and giving activities support the creation of access to justice policies, programs, standards, and performance metrics. Their investments influence critical technology decisions and investments for courts and justice systems in many countries. To achieve global scale in increasing access to justice, these influential global organizations must ensure that ICT accessibility and digital inclusion are a central part of their agendas.

About G3ict

The Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies – is an advocacy initiative launched in December 2006 by the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development, in cooperation with the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at UN DESA. Its mission is to facilitate and support the implementation of the dispositions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) promoting digital accessibility and Assistive Technologies.