New video equipment is being introduced to over 100 courts as the government increasingly turns to technology to conduct hearings remotely and keep the justice system running during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A videoconferencing system from specialist supplier Kinly will initially be rolled out to 60 magistrates’ courts and 48 Crown courts open. The Ministry of Justice says the system securely connects to the existing justice video network which links police stations and prisons to courts. Parties in remand, custody time limit and sentencing hearings will be able to click on a link in an email invite or in the Crown court digital case system to join.
The Kinly Cloud Video Platform will not be used for jury trials, which have currently been suspended. A judge will decide whether it is appropriate to use the platform on a case-by-case basis. No defendant will appear from their own home and sentencing will not take place unless the defendant is in custody or physically present in the court.
The ministry hopes that, by the end of next week, 16 magistrates’ courts and nine Crown courts can access the platform. HM Courts & Tribunals Service has already the technology to run 412 remand hearings.
Courts minister Chris Philp said: ‘We have already seen a huge rise in the number of cases being heard remotely, and this innovation will ensure the wheels of justice continue to turn.’
Statistics published by HMCTS show a steep increase in the use of video technology in the courts and tribunals - from 750 hearings by the end of March to 1,250 hearings by mid-April.
Law Society president Simon Davis said the platform was another tool to keep the wheels of justice turning during the pandemic. However, he said ‘such a widespread rollout of remote hearings could profoundly alter how we deliver justice - and thus must be monitored carefully to ensure its quality is not adversely affected’.