Making legal advice free for all

New community legal Web site is launched, and a survey shows increasing importance of IT to teaching.

New community legal Web site is launched, and a survey shows increasing importance of IT to teaching.

The Lord Chancellor's department has launched a new community legal Web service - Just Ask!, writes Mike Simons.

The free service is designed to help people find legal information and advice quickly and easily. Users can search for advice on legal issues ranging from child custody and divorce to housing, immigration and education.

Its advice search facility links several hundred carefully selected legal Web sites and features an electronic directory of over 15,000 approved sources of legal advice, including solicitors and advice agencies, such as the Citizen's Advice Bureau.

Andrew Boswell, chief technical officer at ICL, which developed Just Ask! and will host the site, said users can type in inquiries in eight languages via a fuzzy matching search engine and come up with useful answers.

"A person can type in a misspelled question in Urdu and still get the answer they need," he said.

The site has been implemented on Windows NT with Internet Information Server 4.0 as the Web server and SQL Server 7.0 as the back-end database. It is accessible via many channels, including PCs, games consoles, and digital TV.

Ministers are talking about boosting IT use in schools, but an NOP poll commissioned by BT Education shows how far they have to go.

NOP spoke to 200 head teachers - 100 from the primary sector and 100 from the secondary sector, and asked what they would spend a windfall of £50,000 on. IT equipment headed the wish list with 63%, followed by more teaching staff (61%), non-teaching staff (57%) and books (53%).

Head teachers were asked how much they would need for sufficient IT resources over the next year. The survey found that primary schools would like to spend, on average, £24,000, with £81,551 for secondary schools. Jim Moore, general manager of BT Education, said, "This research shows the need for more teaching staff remains a major issue for head teachers. However, the results also underline the increasingly important role ICT is playing in schools."

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