The University of Michigan is spearheading development of what is believed to be first-of-its-kind technology to help people who have been charged with minor offenses interact with courts online, without needing to hire an attorney.
The technology was invented by J.J. Prescott, professor of law, and Ben Gubernick, his former student. Their goal was to increase and equalize citizen access to courts by creating an alternative to physically going to court, a process that can be time-consuming, confusing, and often intimidating.
The software provides a way for litigants with issues ranging from unpaid fines to minor civil infractions, including traffic tickets, to communicate directly with judges and prosecutors to find mutually agreeable ways to resolve their cases.
“When you look at how many cases courts process, you realize online interaction and resolution is the next frontier. Courts have so much potential to influence people’s lives for the better,” Prescott said.
“The challenge is removing barriers to access while making the most of judicial and prosecutorial wisdom and experience. We wanted to make sure the software wouldn’t interfere with everything good that courts are already doing.”
Gubernick said the technology wouldn’t replace courts.
“In-person interaction is necessary for a lot of work courts do,” Gubernick said. “This technology targets only those cases where online interaction can be faster, fairer and less costly for everyone involved.”
The project is part of the Global Challenges arm of U-M’s Third Century Initiative, a $50 million, five-year program that is leveraging the university’s interdisciplinary expertise to tackle some of society’s most pressing problems while creating learning opportunities for students.