The government has pledged £160m to fulfil ambitious plans to make courtrooms fully digital by 2016, ending the criminal justice system’s ‘outdated’ reliance on paper.
Justice minister Damian Green this morning outlined a plan Transforming the Criminal Justice System covering initiatives ranging from increased use of technology, improved case preparation, better support for victims and televising the Court of Appeal.
Specifically initiatives include:
- Installing Wi-Fi in the majority of 500 courts so the prosecution, defence, judiciary and court staff can access all necessary documents;
- Digital evidence screens to enable the defence and prosecution to present evidence, including CCTV and other video footage, digitally;
- New court presentation and collaboration software allowing prosecution, defence and judiciary to work on cases more easily; and
- New funding for IT to increase digital workings and reduce the use of paper in the system by the police and judicial system.
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.’
He said the investment would help turn the criminal justice system into a ‘digital and modern’ public service. Under the plans for fully digital courts, digital case files will replace the current paper ones and a common IT platform and CJS-wide digital data store will be set up to allow all parties access to case information.
The concept of a ‘paperless’ or 'digital court' has been tested at Birmingham Magistrates' Court since March. The MoJ said that the court has dealt with more than 80 cases ranging from shoplifting to violent offences.
The plans seek to encourage digital technology to become ‘embedded’ in the everyday working in the criminal justice system. Police officers will be able to record information while they are on the beat and start putting together case files ‘from the street’.
Police evidence will routinely be given via videolink to avoid officers having to spend hours at court.
The government will introduce legislation to enable ‘high-volume, low-level regulatory cases’, such as TV licence evasion and traffic offences, to be dealt with away from traditional magistrates' courts and the police be able to prosecute ‘low-level shoplifting’ offences.
The 'Track My Crime' initiative, launched by Avon and Somerset Constabulary, which enables victims to check the progress of their case online, will be extended to other areas.
Plans to provide greater support to victims will include consideration of the creation of an independent complaints ombudsman for victims of crime.
To create a more transparent and responsive system, television cameras will be allowed into the Court of Appeal to broadcast judges' decisions.
The police will publish case timeliness data on the police.uk website, enabling the public to see how long cases are taking to resolve in their local area. Local police performance and expenditure data will also be published.
The action plan, which will be delivered by the Criminal Justice Board, will be rolled out over the next two years, the government said.