A Legal Labyrinth is a Barrier to Justice
If you find yourself in a situation where you require legal advice, that most likely means that what you are experiencing is already a big stressor in your life. If, on top of that, you do not have the means or knowledge it takes to access the legal support you need, your situation can become precarious. A large step towards equality is thus ensuring that your background does not predetermine whether the justice system “works” for you.
The Colombia legal system has been plagued by complaints of complexity and inaccessibility. A citizen survey from 2012, highlighted the need for improved channels of access to justice for citizens, with clear and concrete language. A change to the ways that people could get information and guidance with legal questions and legal proceedings was needed.
Making a Legal System Legible
In response to this urgent need for a clearer and more accessible legal system, Colombia’s Ministry of Justice and Law committed to developing a platform to help citizens have better understanding of and access to the judicial system. This commitment was included in Colombia’s second action plan and its aim was to remove some of the barriers to understanding and navigating the complexities of the Colombian legal system. What came of this commitment is LegalApp. This is a mobile application and online platform that contains information about the legal system for every Colombian municipality, covering many areas, including civil and administrative, to criminal and environmental law. Its goal is to demystify the legal processes, language, and advice, as well as providing the steps citizens can take to resolve legal issues. With this, the legal system could be closer to citizens needing legal help. In the context of Colombia’s confusing legal system, LegalApp marks a turning point, with citizens being able to access legal know-how and support.
On top of information on how to proceed with legal issues, LegalApp includes a glossary of legal terms, directory of judicial institutions, and a list of around 20,000 public officials to consult, as well as legal document templates. It is also possible to schedule appointments through the app, and get information on what estimated legal costs might be.
LegalApp Making Waves and Potential to Grow
Since its launch, LegalApp has had a steady increase in the number of users, with millions of users of its online platform and tens of thousands of app downloads.
The app is considered a great success, and has been well received by civil society. It was even nominated for the 2016 Award of Excellence in Justice from the Excellence in Justice Corporation. Thanks to the app, Colombia is a leader in the Justice Studies Center of America’s Index of Online Judicial services, and LegalApp was ranked first of 130 websites from 32 countries assessed by the Justice Studies Center of the Americas in its Index of Online Judicial Services.
The COVID-19 pandemic was another barrier to legal services, and so national, regional, and local authorities all adopted new regulations to provide public services through technology. For many people this was a confusing transition, but because LegalApp had been functioning for a few years at that point, it was able to provide assistance. This made it possible for people to still access legal services while the pandemic restrictions were in place.
During the lockdown instances of domestic violence rose across Colombia. Through LegalApp, it was possible to get clear and easily accessible guidance on legal options, providing step-by-step breakdowns of the procedures to prevent or prosecute this type of violence.
Because of its successes, and its proven ability to adapt to exceptional circumstances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, LegalApp has great prospects for replication, potentially helping to overcome barriers to justice for the people of other countries as well.
PHOTO Caption: (top) A woman uses the Colombia’s LegalApp.
Credit: Ministerio de Justicia y del Derecho, Colombia