Avoiding the Great Divide: Assuring Court Technology Lightens the Load of Low-Income Litigants Post-Covid-19
50 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2022
Date Written: April 1, 2022
Starting in March 2020, various state officials across the United States began to issue stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Initially, these stay-at-home orders required non-essential businesses to close and individuals to remain home for a minimum of two weeks. This meant that restaurants, schools, and even courts closed their doors to the public. Even as businesses re-opened, safety concerns required courts to remain closed to the public given the volume of individuals that visit courthouses on a daily basis. As the pandemic continued, courts could not remain closed given the rights at stake. Accordingly, courts turned to technology, such as virtual conference platforms, electronic filing portals, and even email to virtually open the courthouse doors. This shift had the potential to either help or hurt unrepresented low-income litigants. Unfortunately, there was insufficient time to evaluate these changes and the impact they could have on individual litigants. Given the significant difficulties that already existed in the United States for low-income litigants to obtain access to justice, the quick embrace of technology has the potential to widen or close the justice gap depending on the path taken. The pandemic brings a choice to the forefront. Courts can utilize technologies for the convenience of the court, potentially creating a heavier burden on low-income litigants, or they can adopt technologies to create better access to justice for low-income litigants. Other businesses have thrived by turning to technology, especially during the pandemic, making their products and services more accessible to individuals of all socio-economic backgrounds. Grocery stores utilized technology to assure the availability of essential products and helped address safety concerns by utilizing mobile applications for ordering and delivery. Telemedicine, via mobile devices, grew as an option to help patients while avoiding exposure to Covid-19. These other industries have one thing in common in utilizing technology, they focus on the “consumer,” the individuals who will be utilizing the technologies for their product (shoppers) or services (patients). If courts focus on the individual litigants as the consumer, not lawyers or judges, to determine how to best use technology, the opportunity exists to increase access to justice for low-income litigants. By failing to do this, the justice gap will grow.
Keywords: court administration, court management, low income litigants, court technology, access to justice, technology gap, digital divide, virtual hearings, videoconferencing, justice gap, pandemic, COVID-19, pro se
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