Access to justice during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK

O' Rourke, Alison; Bowler, Bethany; Hewett, Natalie; Hussain-Kazmi, Shaheen; Willey, Jeanette; Riddle-Harte, Jaimie; Toms, Sali; Wild, Tom; Robinson, Daniel; Young, Jason; Panambo, Junealle; Akhtar, Mariya and Khan, Rabbiya (2022). Access to justice during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. Open Justice Centre, Open University Law School, Milton Keynes, UK.



The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges for our legal system. The courts have had to adapt to the unprecedented change in circumstances. One of the most dramatic changes to occur was the introduction of remote court hearings. This report, jointly authored by the Open University and Northumbria University, seeks to explore this transition and the impact it has had on access to justice.

The Open University Policy Clinic is part of the Open Justice Centre. Open Justice provides free legal advice and education to members of the public in a variety of legal areas. In 2019, Open Justice established the Policy Clinic to undertake research on behalf of organisations and charities, aiming to influence policy and law reform. The Northumbria Student Law Office was set up in 1981 and offers free legal advice to members of the public on a range of different areas. The Policy Clinic within the Student Law Office was set up in the 2018/2019 academic year with the aim to undertake research influencing policy and law reform.

We began our research by gathering data from a sample of 80 Crown Courts and 77 County Courts. In addition to this, we conducted fieldwork in the Court of Protection. This involved all members of the team requesting access as public observers to remote hearings. In total, 25 hearings were attended. There was also a review of existing literature surrounding remote hearings. This report will identify the themes arising from our research that have a direct influence on access to justice. We will discuss the findings from our research alongside the existing data, and comparisons will be made between these two data sets. We believe this report is particularly important as we enter a post-COVID-19 world and questions are being raised as to whether the changes that have occurred during the pandemic should be implemented permanently. The aim of this report is to gain an insight into the effect of the pandemic and to assess the practicality of online courts.

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