The former director of public prosecutions (DPP) has called for ‘big picture thinking’ on digital working in the criminal justice system – after noting that the police, Crown Prosecution Service and the courts are still using incompatible IT systems.
Sir Keir Starmer QC, who was DPP between 2008 and 2013, described the lack of digital working as a ‘massive problem’ for the courts.
The barrister, who earlier this year confirmed his intention to stand as a parliamentary candidate in London, was speaking at a panel discussion on London firm Hodge Jones & Allen’s Innovation In Law 2014 report.
Starmer (pictured) said there has to be a challenge to ‘what we think is the independence of the police, prosecutor and the court’.
The independence of each chief constable, he said, ‘has dictated over time that [they] can choose which IT system to use, with no requirement whether it speaks to the CPS system’.
As a result, ‘over several decades we’ve had different systems, purchased on big contracts, which don’t speak to the CPS system. There’s no requirement on the CPS to have a system that talks to the court system; and the court no requirement to talk to the CPS.
‘Even with the best will in the world amongst people who are now trying to change it, we are locked into arrangements that have dictated the playing field, on the notion that it is an infringement on the independence of the chief constable to tell him “I’m sorry you just can’t buy that system, you’ve got to buy this system”.’
He added: ‘We’ve had negotiations with the Home Office about this in recent years, to say “whatever else you do, next time you’re providing the chief constables to go for a new IT system, for heaven’s sake make sure it’s one that fits a certain specification so we don’t run into this problem again”. Did they do it? No.’
Having also come across judges who said they did not work digitally, Starmer called for a debate ‘on what independence really means’.
‘Of course independence about the operational decision, of course independence about judgments in cases, but not independence that means you can choose whether to work efficiently,’ he said.
When Starmer became DPP, he revealed that every case coming to the CPS - responsible for around a million cases a year from the magistrates’ and crown courts - came from the police in paper form.
‘Every case was being looked at on paper,’ he recalled. ‘They were then being transported to court in paper form. Every court wanted a bundle – millions upon millions upon millions of bits of paper being shipped and transported all over the country.’
Court of Appeal judge Dame Elizabeth Gloster, also sitting on the panel, said there was currently ‘big picture thinking’ with HMCTS reforms, including work on a universal criminal platform ‘which will provide for the digitisation of evidence in the criminal court’.