The Justice Centre app
Legal tech to promote refugee rights
A ground-breaking app developed by Freshfields gives refugees in Hong Kong increased access to their legal rights and enables our pro bono client, Justice Centre Hong Kong (JCHK), greater capacity to focus on critical assistance.
The ‘HK Asylum Guide’ app is a simple step-by-step guide for refugees on the application process for non-refoulement protection (or refugee protection) in Hong Kong. Where successful this process prevents refugees from being removed from Hong Kong, where they might otherwise face torture, persecution or other serious violations of their fundamental human rights.
Launched in 2020, the app was built entirely in-house by a range of business services teams, without any external assistance. The Freshfields Innovation team collaborated with Asia-based Freshfields lawyers and business services staff, UX designers, user testing specialists, developers and the Justice Centre and with refugees themselves, drawing upon the experience of existing client-focused digital tools.
An upgrade of the app released in January 2022 allows the guide to be accessed in French in addition to English, with new languages continuing to be added until the guide is available in all 11 of the languages most commonly used by JCHK’s clients. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees – the UN body charged with protecting refugees worldwide – is contributing to the process by assisting with the translation of the information in the guide.
In this upgrade, the scope of the guide has also been broadened to support JCHK clients appealing to the Torture Claims Appeal Board, making the guide a ‘one stop shop’ for information on the whole process of seeking asylum under the Unified Screening Mechanism in Hong Kong. The guide also incorporates a new ‘contact us’ function, enabling users to complete a simple electronic form that is then sent directly to JCHK's case management database.
The app is available for download from both the Apple store and Google Play store and can be used offline for refugees who have limited internet access. An online website version of the guide can also be accessed here.
Freshfields: a responsible business
The Justice Centre app project was guided by our commitment to doing business responsibly and making a positive contribution to our local communities, says Georgia Dawson, Senior Partner who spearheaded the original project during her tenure as Asia managing partner. ‘The app was the result of a highly rewarding collaboration between our lawyers, innovation team, app designers, JCHK and its clients, leveraging our experience of building digital tools for clients. As that experience has grown, it became clear that there was significant potential to expand the functions and capabilities of the app in order to provide even better support to JCHK's clients, who are often some of the most vulnerable members of the Hong Kong community. I'm very excited by the significant enhancements being built into this latest version, which I hope will make it an even more valuable tool.’
Isaac Shaffer, Head of Legal Services at Justice Centre Hong Kong, says that the app provides a ‘critical baseline tier’ of information to those seeking protection. ‘This frees up staff time to concentrate stretched resources on offering tailored, in-depth legal assistance and on strategic impact to secure systemic change. Our clients are not lawyers, but are faced with navigating a complex legal process of seeking protection in an alien environment. Time and again, it has been shown that easier connectivity to this kind of information proves crucial.
‘Freshfields, who are one of our longstanding partners, provide us with enormous amounts of support and assistance,’ Isaac adds. ‘We wouldn't be able to do what we do without them and this app is really a key indication of what these kinds of partnerships can achieve, showing how NGOs and key members of the legal community can work together to come up with innovative solutions for some really fundamental human rights problems.’
Restrictions relating to the coronavirus pandemic have made attending the Justice Centre for assistance more difficult, Isaac says, further underlining the need for the app. ‘We are confident that this will enable us to be more accessible and responsive to the needs of our clients and will help to “future-proof” against the changing and unpredictable external environment.’
The app was named the winning project in the 'Social Justice' category of the Financial Times Innovative Lawyers Asia-Pacific Awards 2021.