Digital Courtrooms Everywhere by 2016

June 27, 2013

According to Justice Minister Damian Green, courtrooms will be fully digital by 2016 ending the court service’s ‘outdated’ reliance on paper.

At the launch of a wide-ranging action plan bringing together key people from across the criminal justice system, including the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, and court service, he announced that the Government will be investing £160 million for ‘digital courtrooms’ and improved IT systems across agencies, meaning information can be shared electronically, securely and efficiently.

The investment will provide:

  • Wifi in the majority of 500 court houses so the prosecution, defence, judiciary and court staff can access all necessary court documents at the touch of a button and also access office systems from the courtroom, helping to prevent adjournments caused by missing information;
  • Digital Evidence Screens so the defence and prosecution can present evidence digitally rather than relying on paper copies which can cause huge delays if lost or misplaced. The screens also allow CCTV footage and other video and audio evidence to be presented easily in court;
  • New Court Presentation and Collaboration Software allowing prosecution, defence, and judiciary to navigate complex Crown Court cases with ease; and
  • New funding for IT where needed, to increase digital workings and reduce the use of paper in the system by the police and court system.

Justice Minister Damian 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 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‘This investment will help us get rid of our outdated paper-based system, and turn our criminal justice system into a digital and modern public service.

‘This will help provide swift and efficient justice, treating victims and witnesses with the care and consideration they deserve.’

The action plan, ‘Transforming the Criminal Justice System’, also proposes:

  • Digital embedded in everyday working – building on the current system where police digitally transfer case information to CPS, encourage digital working. This will mean police can use mobile devices, with access to real-time intelligence and local information, to start building case files from the street and giving evidence via video-link is the norm, not the exception.
  • A CJS which is faster and right the first time – legislating to enable the majority of high-volume, low-level ‘regulatory’ cases, such as TV licence evasion and many traffic offences, to be dealt with away from traditional magistrates’ courtrooms, which means freeing up the courts to deal with more serious cases;
  • A transparent and responsive CJS – supporting the extension of the ‘Track My Crime’ system to other police areas. This successful initiative, launched by Avon and Somerset Constabulary, gives victims the opportunity to check the progress of their case online, including the name of the responsible police officer. It allows the police to send updates to victims to update them on their case, creating a more open and transparent criminal justice system.
  • Care and consideration for victims and witnesses – provide extra support for victims and witnesses by offering them greater protection throughout the criminal justice process, for example by making it easier for witnesses to give evidence by video, and looking at the case for creating an independent complaints ombudsman for victims of crime. We recently announced that we will pilot the use of pre-recorded evidence for vulnerable victims and witnesses so that they are no longer cross-examined in open court.
  • Working in partnership – the Criminal Justice Board, which was set up in February, has developed this strategy and plan and will oversee its delivery. It is made up of leaders from across the criminal justice system, including the police and the Victims’ Commissioner, so that the system pulls together as one to make a success of these reforms.

The MoJ is also establishing the Police ICT Company to improve existing police IT systems and support forces who want to invest in new technologies like smartphones and develop apps to save time.

The concept of a ‘digital court’ is currently being tested at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court which is the only paperless courtroom in the country.

The ‘digital court’ in Birmingham brings together various time-saving technology. This includes in-court Wi-Fi, digital screens to present evidence, and police to court video-links, allowing witnesses and police officers to give evidence via video technology. Live-links are currently used in nine police areas, and allow savings in police time, as well as enabling vulnerable and intimidated witnesses to give evidence in a more convenient location away from the offender.

The test court has been in place since March, and has been used in over 80 cases ranging from shoplifting to offences of violence.

Peter Lewis, Chief Executive of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: ‘This is great news for the criminal justice system. The Crown Prosecution Service has been leading the way on moving to digital working in the criminal justice system since 2010, and we have achieved a lot already, such as the instantaneous transfer of files between police and prosecutors. Today’s investment will move us much closer towards the goal of eliminating paperwork throughout the life of a criminal case – and all of the costs and waste that come with it.’

National policing lead on criminal justice Chief Constable Chris Eyre said: ‘This strategy is the culmination of a great deal of work to plan for a lean, modern and responsive criminal justice system in an era of significant austerity and enormous change. Digitisation and simplification of criminal justice systems will ensure that scarce police resources can be used more effectively for the benefit of victims and communities. Victims and witnesses will receive better support and information through the use of modern technologies and proposals to make processes more efficient such as police led prosecution of simple and uncontested matters in the magistrates courts and case management initiatives led by the judiciary.’

The action plan will be rolled out over the next two years, with the aim of making the justice system more efficient for the public.