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Court design for the people

Court design for the people

By Karin Derkley


If it is possible for an app to tell you when your takeaway pizza is ready, why are people in court still expected to sit and wait for hours for their case to be called? Professor Kathy Laster, director of Zelman Cowen Centre at Victoria University, posed this question at the Redesigning Justice forum this week. The forum was part of Melbourne Design Week. It brought together designers and architects, lawyers and legal academics to explore how design can be used to make the justice system more user-friendly for those who use the court, including witnesses and their families, as well as defendants. Victoria Legal Aid’s executive director of Legal Practice, Katie Miller, said courts and the legal sector were traditionally designed to instil fear and ruthlessly enforce the power of the state, and that it was time to start designing not on the basis of power but for the people who use the system. "There is nothing that says ‘you don't matter’ more than saying ‘sit here, wait, and I'm not going to tell you anything’,” Ms Miller said. Professor Laster said that law had come late to a consumer-centric approach. “It’s not that the law hasn’t been involved in design but in the past its design was always intended to show the majesty of the monarchy and the law.” The way in which courts dealt with the law had changed from a hierarchical model to one in which intermediaries were increasingly cut out and people were dealing more directly with the courts, she said, and its design had to reflect that change. "We must now retrofit a retail consumer system over a wholesale system built for professionals." That meant providing court users with services that had the same level of user-friendliness and transparency as they expect in the rest of their lives. Simon Goodrich, co-founder and senior partner at design firm Portable, said the justice system was behind the curve in terms of government-directed innovation. "It's far behind infrastructure, tax, government, health, and education in terms of end user benefit." That meant the experience of the justice system for users left a lot to be desired, he said. "Compared to an airport or a hospital, for example, justice locations perform poorly in supporting and directing people." He said the justice system needed to be redesigned around the people who actually use it. “Be agile, flexible and responsive. Automate processes not people. Ensure all data is open.”

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