Illustration of a woman sat a computer with the words HM Courts and Tribunal Service on the screen

Anna Tsalapatanis wins inaugural award from the Vice-Chancellor for Supporting Online Justice project

21 September 2022

Junior Research Fellow Dr Anna Tsalapatanis is part of a team that last week won one of the inaugural Vice-Chancellor’s Innovation & Engagement Awards.

The idea behind these new awards is to recognise the ways in which Oxford researchers make a positive difference to the economy, environment and society. Against stiff competition from across the University, Anna’s team picked up one of the four top prizes, with the judges commending the excellent research practice and culture on display.

As Co-Investigator (Research) Anna works with her team on a project called Supporting Online Justice: Enhancing Accessibility, Participation, and Procedural Fairness. Created in partnership with HM Courts & Tribunal Service, this evidence-based communication and design project supports lay and vulnerable users of online hearings through public information films. The five films produced through the project were created in consultation with the court service, judiciary, advice sector and members of the public.

The transition towards online court proceedings has raised concerns among experts who worry that access to justice could be severely undermined by users of the legal system being ill-prepared – without the equipment, bandwidth or skills required to engage effectively. These concerns were tested during the pandemic when there was often no alternative but to conduct hearings online with participants appearing ‘in’ court from their homes.

Supporting Online Justice seeks to mitigate these worries by providing technical, legal and emotional support in an empathetic and accessible manner. Since they were launched in March 2022, the films have attracted around 500 views a week and the research team have been asked to produce a Scottish version of one of the films and a Makaton version for the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. Anna and the team have also secured further funding to work with HM Courts & Tribunal Service to produce a suite of resources for the advice sector.

All films are available to watch on the HM Courts & Tribunal Service YouTube channel. The project report is also available online, detailing the team’s methodology and results.

As well as the Vice-Chancellor’s Innovation & Engagement Award, Supporting Online Justice recently received praise in an article in the Tribunals Journal and has also received Impact Acceleration Funding for a spin-off project, Designing for Inclusion. The project was funded by the Economic & Social Research Council.