In her first significant announcement since taking office, lord chancellor Liz Truss will today back a £1bn programme to extend online courts to criminal offences.

A vision paper to be published by the Ministry of Justice and HM Judiciary today will set out plans for digital processes in every court and tribunal in England and Wales.

The programme will build upon Sir Brian Leveson's review of efficiency in criminal proceedings, published in January last year. Leveson called for the introduction of 'virtual hearings' by email and video ‘on a more organised basis’.

In such hearings, defendants, victims and witnesses ‘will be able to participate via an audio or video link’.

Today's Transforming Our Justice System paper will propose the extension of pilot projects in Crown courts allowing crime victims and witnesses to prerecord their cross-examinations to avoid the trauma of court appearances. 

Almost three-quarters of the cases in the pilot programmes, run in Liverpool, Leeds and Kingston-upon-Thames Crown courts, involved sexual offences.

Meanwhile online magistrates' courts will enable defendants in less serious cases to plead guilty online. Transport fare dodging will be the first category of offences to be dealt with in this way. Defendants will be able to log on to see the evidence against them before entering a plea.

If they plead guilty, they will be given the choice of whether to accept the conviction and penalty and then pay the fine online. Defendants who do not wish to accept the fine because of mitigating circumstances or insufficient means will be able to choose to have a magistrate consider that information. 

The process would allow defendants to conclude their case faster and with greater certainty, and means magistrates and courts can focus their resources and attentions where they are most needed, the ministry said. 

Truss (pictured) said: 'We want a justice system that works for everyone. That means creating a system that is just, efficient and simple. We have the tools and the technology to cut unnecessary paperwork, to deliver swifter justice and to make the experience more straightforward.

'Most importantly these reforms will allow us to better protect victims and witnesses who can find the experience of re-living a traumatic event in court incredibly stressful.'