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The Justice Centre app

Legal tech to promote refugee rights

A ground-breaking new 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, 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.

The Justice Centre 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.

Launched in November 2020, 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.

Justice centre app mobile view

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 and former Freshfields Asia managing partner. “Our partnership with the Justice Centre is really important to us. We’ve been working together for around 13 years now, helping with a range of projects, including legal research and country-of-origin research. The app has been a great opportunity for us to bring our skills to bear and harness the transformative power of technology to assist the Justice Centre in a new way, while supporting some of the most vulnerable members in our community. We’re keen to explore how we might use similar solutions for other clients in the future.”

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.”

In recognition of the ground-breaking app, we were announced as the winners of the Social Justice category at the 2021 FT Asia-Pacific Innovative Lawyers Awards.  You can read more about our work with Justice Centre Hong Kong here.

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