The UK Is Taking Its Courtrooms Online

Police, legal professionals and defendants will get access to new digital tools and services by 2016

The UK justice system will be modernised through a number of new digital services, Minister for Criminal Justice Damian Green has announced.

He promised that by July 2016, every magistrates’ court in England and Wales will adopt videoconferencing and cloud storage solutions. Meanwhile, police officers will get access to online tools which should enable them to collect evidence using smartphones and tablets.

The changes were unveiled as part of the Criminal Justice System Digital Business Model, published on Friday.

No more paper

Last year, the government announced the intention to completely transform courts in England and Wales. The changes are expected to cost £75 million a year, in addition to £44 million already earmarked for upgrades of IT infrastructure. On Friday, Green published more details about what exactly this money will be spent on.

Patrick PoendlAs part of the reforms, the Ministry of Justice will introduce Wi-Fi connectivity and digital presentation equipment into courtrooms across the country. Written evidence and legal submissions will be stored on secure central servers, and legal professionals will be able to access them on any device. In addition, prosecutors and defence lawyers will be allowed to use tablets and smartphones in court, instead of traditional paper files.

Police officers will be equipped with new mobile tools, which will enable them to upload evidence and statements directly from the scene of the crime, without the need to return back to the police station.

Meanwhile, defendants in custody will be able to participate in pre-trial hearings though a video link, eliminating the cost of transporting them to the court and back, and making the process more time-efficient.

“I want to see a Criminal Justice System where information is captured once by a police officer responding to a crime and then flows through the system to the court stage without duplication or reworking,” said Green. “Many forces are already using digital technology like body-worn video, which can be used to collect compelling evidence at the scene of crimes.”

The government claims that these changes will help victims and witnesses by increasing the speed with which cases proceed through the court.

Bromley Magistrates’ Court, where Green made the announcement, will be the first in London to be equipped with new services. The ‘digital court’ concept had already been tested at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court since March 2013.

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