Australia urged to consider robot lawyers for DIY divorce

The technologies needed are already used in countries like the Netherlands, UK and Canada.

Australia urged to consider robot lawyers for DIY divorce
To reduce the length and cost of legal proceedings, groups are calling on the Australian government to adapt technologies already in use in countries like the Netherlands, UK and Canada.

“Let’s face it: lawyers can be expensive, and court proceedings can be slow, confrontational and painful,” said Bevan Warner of National Legal Aid.

He pointed out that Australians have embraced technology for shopping, communicating, dating, house hunting, work and leisure. Why not for legal proceedings?

DIY divorce and more

One such technology is being showcased tonight at the RMIT University Storey Hall Building and it is helping couples in the Netherlands negotiate their own divorce and only call in lawyers when needed.

Call it DIY divorce, if you will.

However, it may also be applied to bring about DIY processes for legal issues relating to debt and consumer matters, landlord-tenant disagreements, family law, and employment disputes.

Being exhibited is the Dutch government-operated Rechtwijzer (Roadmap to Justice, pronounced wrecked-visor) which has been online since 2007 and costs a nominal €100 to use.

It could help reduce the cost of and duration of over 45,000 divorces that happen in Australia every year, according to data from the ABS.

Though it allows for mediation, legal review and adjudication if needed, the system enables couples to comprehensively deal with their legal problem via a mediated settlement process, Warner said.

Rechtwijzer asks about the couples’ details such as age, income, occupation and education and then finds out their preferences and options as part of a negotiation involving both parties.

“Agreements reached through collaboration tend to be more effective than decisions imposed by judges,” Warner noted.

Bridging the justice gap

The service – developed in cooperation with various companies including those who made the dispute resolution system at eBay which deals with about 60 million disputes every year – is seen as a tool to bridge what’s being called the “justice gap”.

“Technology offers the opportunity to help Australians who fall into the justice gap,” said Rob Hulls, director of RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice.

Those who often fall into this “justice gap” are people who cannot afford to pay a lawyer but aren’t poor enough to qualify for legal aid, Hulls explained. 

“It is time to think differently. We must draw on innovative design, and disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, to dramatically improve access to justice. This will not only make existing services more efficient and effective, but empower people to resolve their own disputes,” he said.

“Over the years, there have been numerous inquiries to find ways to improve access to justice - with little overall impact. And we know that while there is no shortage of legal information, information is often not enough to help those in need”.  

The forum at the RMIT University organised by National Legal Aid and RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice will be attended by leading figures from the fields of law, technology and design. The event also includes participants from Dutch Legal Aid and The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL) which is based in Tilburg University Law School in The Netherlands.

The challenge to Australia

“I see no reason why well educated people of goodwill, operating in the sixteenth largest economy in the world, with a proven record in oil and gas and mining innovation, cannot lead the world in rethinking how we use adaptive technologies to close the justice gap,” Bevan Warner said in a statement sent to Australasian Lawyer.

He did note, however, that one technology alone won’t solve access to justice, but it will greatly contribute to broaden access to legal processes.

“Put simply, our future success demands that we design services with modern and adaptive technologies to suit the needs of ordinary people including low-income and disadvantaged Australians,” he said.

“We must be alert to the potential for injustice, but we must also be alive to the potential for these technologies to bring the law to the very people it exists to serve.”

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