We need to root out courtroom inefficiencies all round, not just with technology.
A YouTube video posted by the Ministry of Justice shows the digital concept court in courtroom 7 at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court.
It attempts to showcase the brave new world that technology can bring about to, as ministers are wont to say, ‘speed up justice’.
Mark Barrington, national digital defence lead for the criminal justice system at the Crown Prosecution Service, who gamely spoke at the Criminal Law Solicitors Association conference last weekend, played the three and a half minute clip to delegates.
Each year the CPS produces 160 million sheets of paper, he said. Delegates listened politely. They continued to listen politely as he rehearsed the government’s plans to invest £160m to implement entirely digital courtrooms by 2015 with a view to saving an estimated £1.8bn a year.
Then came the video, with court staff extolling the virtues of court Wi-Fi and live video links allowing police officers to give evidence from the police station.
But the section on digital sharing and presenting of evidence was met with hoots of laughter.
A West Midlands senior crown prosecutor, Bindi Atwal, spoke of the advantages of the technology, using an example of a public order offence in which all the evidence came from CCTV footage.
‘We were able to request it from the police the day before the trial,’ she says earnestly.
Within two hours, she says, she had the video. ‘Ordinarily we would never have got it to court so quickly; it would have taken at least four weeks.’
The following day, it was played to the defendant who duly put his hands up and pleaded guilty.
The mirth was for two reasons – the first being the fact that the CCTV footage was produced at all – usually it is in a format incompatible with other devices.
And secondly, that the Crown only sought to get the evidence – the only evidence in the case – the day before the trial and only served it on the trial date. Had the evidence been produced earlier, the case would not have been listed for a trial and the defendant would have pleaded guilty earlier in the process.
It’s all very well introducing in-court technology, but there are other more fundamental areas where inefficiency has to be stamped out.
Catherine Baksi is a Gazette reporter