A recent rash of online efforts from the legal profession should be praised for effort, but they won’t reach their supposed target audiences
They are bright, breezy, colourful and chock-a-block with state-of-the-art design tropes. They are a rash of lawyer-generated “project” and other websites — with the latest to hit the cyber streets being Rightsinfo.org.
It is the brainchild of Adam Wagner, an eight-year-call barrister at London’s One Crown Office Row. According to the public law specialist, the site will “use social media to improve public understanding of human rights. Our brilliant new website provides clear, reliable and beautiful human rights information to share”.
The “concept” behind Reed’s site “is to shed some light on the workings of the family courts, to make the process and the cases understandable for people without law degrees”.
In a slightly different game is Mootis, a lawyer-specific social media site launched by Bill Braithwaite QC of north of England set Exchange Chambers. His site comes with high ambitions, setting out to be the Twitter of the legal profession, without that site’s key element of a 140-character limit.
All of these efforts are interesting. But are they anything more than lawyers talking to themselves? Indeed, are they anything more than vanity publishing?
Everyone loves human rights in principle, just as everyone in philosophical mode recognises that family law proceedings should be a lot more collaborative and less stressful, not least for the children involved.
But in the real world of tabloid newspapers and radio shock-jocks, human rights is little more than shorthand for paedophiles, prisoners, benefit scroungers and illegal immigrants.
That is a grim fact of life that few if any in the human rights campaigning community appreciate.
Of course they are fully aware that evil Fleet Street reptiles and commercial radio chat merchants cravenly misrepresent human rights issues for the sole purpose of inflaming their readers and listeners. But what they don’t appear to understand is that many of those readers and listeners are themselves keen to be inflamed.
And unfortunately, those poor bedraggled members of the public that actually might be keen to benefit from their human rights are too focused on living hard and stressful lives to search the internet for a jolly and beautiful website that will explain the concepts.
The harsh reality is this: immigrants facing deportation, prisoners trying to access information, parents or grandparents struggling to win access to their children or grandchildren don’t have the time — and sadly in many cases, the intellectual capacity — to trawl through a website.
Likewise, a woman suffering regular beatings from her husband or partner is not going to be hugely impressed by a 40-minute podcast meandering through the finer points of family law issues.
What those people need is a fully-funded legal aid system that pays specialists lawyers to explain the issues face-to-face and then to do all the heavy lifting that accessing justice requires. And that system needs to be promoted and advertised in simple language in places the masses see — railway stations, the sides of buses, even on commercial television. And the message would need to be easily digestible, probably avoiding the metro-elite term “human rights”.
It’s simple. If Britain wants a national legal service — and there are hugely strong economic as well as moral arguments in favour of one — then as a society the country has to pay for the whole shooting match.
The fact that the most recent coalition government–– and to be fair, its New Labour predecessor — viewed legal aid as a nuisance at best and hindrance at worst, doesn’t make the simplicity of the argument any less stark. And indeed, any deflection from that core could be viewed as a diversion helpful to the very politicians aiming to slash budgets and ditch the Human Rights Act.
Politicians view legal aid as an easy target because they are convinced that access to justice is a high concept to which most voters don’t wish to allocate brain time.
The sad point is that the politicians might well be right. Many socially progressive lawyers are convinced that the public would rally behind the access to justice cause if it were just made clear to them in language they can understand.
As worthy as the recent rash of websites is, the public isn’t going to find them and the sites probably wouldn’t mean much to them if they did. Lawyers are beautifully and colourfully talking to themselves.
Oh, and what of Mootis? The last time Legal Cheek checked the site was down.