Domestic abuse support app and social care chatbot win SRA tech challenge

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By Aishah Hussain on

RCJ Advice and Mencap scoop £100,000 prize

An app which provides support to domestic abuse survivors and a legal chatbot designed to help people with learning disabilities understand their social care rights have been announced as the winners of a regulator-backed competition.

The Legal Access Challenge, run by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in partnership with innovation foundation Nesta Challenges, aims to broaden access to legal services through new technology.

Its two legal tech start-up winners have today been awarded £50,000 each for developing innovative solutions. The big win brings their prize total to £100,000, having both been awarded £50,000 each to develop their products last autumn.

More than 100 legally-minded innovators pitched their techy solutions to narrow the ‘legal gap’ which sees individuals and small businesses left trying to solve legal problems without the necessary support. The judging panel, chaired by the SRA board member Anna Bradley, had previously selected eight finalists to progress to the final round.

‘CourtNav’ and ‘FLOWS’ by RCJ Advice and Rights of Women and ‘The Chatbot’ by Mencap and Access Social Care came out on top, beating the six other finalists.

CourtNav enables domestic abuse survivors to obtain legal advice, access legal aid, gain court orders and navigate court processes. Meanwhile, FLOWS (Finding Legal Options for Women Survivors) provides women with info and local legal support as well as a secure webchat service where they can obtain legal advice.

Alison Lamb, chief executive of RCJ Advice & Citizens Advice Islington, said: “Being named a Legal Access Challenge winner by the SRA and Nesta Challenges is so motivational and is a credit to all the frontline practitioners we work with. Having digital tools like CourtNav is vital, with technology like it needed more now than ever while people are unable to access face-to-face support and courts are having to move to remote delivery.”

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‘The Chatbot’ is an AI-powered service that helps people with learning disabilities understand their social care rights through the delivery of legal advice.

Kari Gerstheimer, founder and CEO of Access Social Care, said: “We’re delighted to have won the Legal Access Challenge. To increase the impact of the tool we aim to get the chatbot working across other websites so that more people with social care needs can know their rights and other organisations can manage the increased demand for advice, particularly in these challenging times. I’m so proud of the team and so grateful to Mencap and IBM for having incubated the project and getting it this far.”

The final eight teams had been provided with support from the SRA and Nesta, as well as Hogan Lovells, the Law Society, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), to develop their products. In total £500,000 has been awarded in prizes since September.

Bradley said: “CourtNav and FLOWS from RCJ Advice and the chatbot from Mencap exemplify the innovative spirit we wanted the Legal Access Challenge to support and encourage. Both solutions stood out for so clearly understanding the needs of their users and their potential for broadening access to justice for vulnerable people. Too many people struggle to get legal help when they need it and I think there is a huge opportunity for technology to revolutionise the way people use legal services.”

She continued:

“The events of recent weeks have shown the powerful impact that technology can have in supporting the public in difficult times. The benefits of the Challenge are not just about the winners. As well as aiding new collaboration, it is also helping us better understand what is holding technology back in the legal market, and what more the SRA can do as a regulator to encourage innovation while making sure the public is appropriately protected.”

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