The two winners of the Legal Access Challenge are RCJ Advice and Mencap & Access Social Care. Each winning team will receive a £50,000 prize to further develop their solutions to help people get the legal help they need.

CourtNav and FLOWS by RCJ Advice and Rights of Women

RCJ Advice’s winning solutions are CourtNav and FLOWS. This is a collection of tools which enables survivors of domestic abuse to get legal help to protect themselves from abuse, gain court-orders, access legal aid and navigate court-processes, as well as allowing the frontline workers who assist them to be confident using legal remedies.

Refuge states that 1.6m women experienced domestic abuse last year and our judging panel noted that, sadly given recent news, the need for CourtNav and the FLOWS tools is particularly urgent in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.

Legal aid is available for domestic abuse survivors but they report considerable barriers in making legal aid applications including difficulties accessing gateway information, and front line organisations not being able to help or not finding a solicitor that can advise.

RCJ Advice’s suite of tools consist of:

  • CourtNav which collects evidence for a non-molestation order application and links female and male survivors in England and Wales with an accredited domestic abuse legal aid solicitor.
  • FLOWS (Finding Legal Options for Women Survivors) specifically empowers women survivors to easily find clear information and local legal support via a daily phone and email legal consultancy service as well as offering a secure webchat app that women can use quickly and discreetly in order to access legal advice. The FLOWS Discussion Forum also enables practitioners to share advice with peers via a secure platform.

FLOWS referral app allows staff working in frontline roles (such as police officers, witness service staff and refuge staff) to refer survivors to the platform to connect with the legal help they might not realise is available to them or may not know how to access.

The Chatbot, developed by Mencap and Access Social Care

The legal chatbot has been incubated within The Royal Mencap Society and developed using IBM Watson. In order to maximise its impact and ensure that it reaches more people across a broader spectrum of social care needs, it will now be owned and developed by Access Social Care. Access Social Care and Mencap will remain close strategic partners and have a shared interest in the chatbot’s success.

Their winning solution is a legal information chatbot developed by Mencap during a pro bono project with IBM using IBM Watson Assistant and hosted on the IBM Cloud. It provides free, accessible legal information 24/7, helping people, including vulnerable customers and people with a learning disability, to know their social care rights and challenge unlawful decisions.

Research shows 25% less people receive social care than 5 years ago and 95% of local authority social care leaders admit they are unlikely to meet all their legal duties to provide care in 2020. According to Access Social Care, community care law “advice deserts” and cuts to charitable advice provision mean that hundreds of thousands of people with social care needs are experiencing challenges with finding out about their rights and accessing justice. There is therefore a clear need for this service.

The chatbot is already being used by customer advisers on Mencap’s Freephone Learning Disability Helpline. This means that the charity’s helpline staff have started to use the chatbot to answer questions that they could not previously have answered because they did not have legal expertise.

Access Social Care also plans for the chatbot to be hosted on the websites of other advice providing organisations (including helpline charities and law centres) so that the chatbot becomes the “go to” advice portal to help the social justice sector to triage cases in a cost effective way so that lawyers and advisers can spend their time on the most complex cases.