Courtrooms are going to save themselves time and money
Courtrooms in England and Wales will be fully digital by 2016, the government says, ending what it described as “an outdated reliance on paper”.
It is part of a wide-ranging £160m plan to improve the speed and efficiency of the criminal justice system.
Measures will include secure Wi-Fi in courts so lawyers and judges can access all necessary documents.
Justice Minister Damian Green said the plan would turn the courts system into a “modern public service”.
The announcement follows a pilot at a so-called concept court at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court. It has been running since March and dealt with some 80 cases ranging from shoplifting to offences of violence.
The criminal justice system has often been criticised for its delays, and it is a sign of the government’s concern that, in an age of austerity, it is investing £160m to digitise courtooms.
It wants information to be shared electronically, securely and efficiently across agencies in the criminal justice system.
A file not being in court should no longer lead to an adjournment.
Mr Green said: “Every year the courts and Crown Prosecution Service use roughly 160 million sheets of paper.
“Stacked up this would be the same as 15 Mount Snowdons – literally mountains of paper. If we are to win in the global race this must change. It is time we move the court system into the 21st Century.
“This investment will help us get rid of our outdated paper-based system, and turn our criminal justice system into a digital and modern public service.”
The action plan – called Transforming the Criminal Justice System – aims to build on the existing use of technology.
For some time CPS lawyers have worked from tablet devices and documents have been sent to defence lawyers via secure email. The action plan takes this on and includes:
While many lawyers welcome the government’s investment, some have expressed fears about security and what might happen if the system crashed.
Greg Foxsmith, a criminal advocate, said: “If the system crashes, you are not just talking about losing a document or a file, you could have a complete meltdown of the system within a court.
“And if security is not watertight, highly sensitive and confidential information could be accessed. The history of government procurement of IT systems is not a happy one.”
The plan, Transforming the Criminal Justice System‘, seeks to end the court service’s ‘outdated’ reliance on paper, according to Damian Green.
The ‘digital court’ concept has already been tested at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court since March this year.
The government was keen to stress that the plan involves senior personnel from the criminal justice system, including the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, and court service. The idea is to improve the IT systems used by the different judicial agencies so that information can be shared “electronically, securely and efficiently.”
Specifically, the £160m investment plan will see the installation of secure Wi-Fi networks in the majority of the 500 court houses of England and Wales. This will allow the prosecution, defence, judiciary and court staff to access all necessary court documents electronically. It will also allow them to access back-office systems from the courtroom itself, in order to prevent adjournments caused by missing information.
Another feature of the plan will come from the installation of ‘Digital Evidence Screens’, so defence and prosecution teams can present evidence digitally rather than relying on paper copies. According to the Ministry of Justice, huge delays can occur if paper-based evidence is lost or misplaced. The screens will also be used to present CCTV footage and other video and audio evidence to the court.
The plan will also see the arrival of new presentation and collaboration software for courtrooms, in order to allow the prosecution, defence, and judiciary to easily navigate complex Crown court cases. The plan will also see new funding for IT systems where needed “to increase digital workings and reduce the use of paper in the system by the police and court system.”
“Every year the courts and Crown Prosecution Service use roughly 160 million sheets of paper,” explained Damian Green in a statement. “Stacked up this would be the same as fifteen Mount Snowdons – literally mountains of paper. If we are to win in the global race this must change; it is time we move the court system into the 21st century.”
“This investment will help us get rid of our outdated paper-based system, and turn our criminal justice system into a digital and modern public service,” Green added. “This will help provide swift and efficient justice, treating victims and witnesses with the care and consideration they deserve.”
The plan also proposes embedding digital technology in everyday working. This expands on the current system where the police digitally transfer case information to the CPS. Essentially, it will mean the police on the street using their mobile devices, with access to real-time intelligence and local information, in order to start building case files from the start of the case. They will then give evidence via video-link, which will become the norm, rather than having to appear in person in court.
The plan also aims to shunt the majority of “high-volume, low-level regulatory cases,” such as TV licence evasion and many traffic offences, away from traditional magistrates’ courtrooms so they are free to deal with more serious cases.
And the plan aims to introduce an element of transparency, with the extension of the ‘Track My Crime’ system to other police areas. This initiative was launched by Avon and Somerset Constabulary, and allows victims to check the progress of their case online. It also allows the police to send updates to victims, in order to update them on their case.
Other elements of the plan cater for the care and consideration for victims and witnesses, by making it easier to provide video evidence or pre-recorded evidence for vulnerable victims and witnesses.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the changes (if implemented fully by all forces) could save around 4.5 million officer hours a year. That includes charging suspects by post saving two hours of police time per suspect – some 300,000 officer hours per year.
Post taken from http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/news/government-digital-courtrooms-120404
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