Courtrooms to be fully digital by 2016

Lady Justice at the Old Bailey A file not being in court should no longer lead to an adjournment

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Courtrooms in England and Wales will be fully digital by 2016, the government says, ending what it described as "an outdated reliance on paper".

It is part of a wide-ranging £160m plan to improve the speed and efficiency of the criminal justice system.

Measures will include secure wi-fi in courts so lawyers and judges can access all necessary documents.

Justice Minister Damian Green said the plan would turn the courts system into a "modern public service".

The announcement follows a pilot at a so-called concept court at Birmingham Magistrates' Court. It has been running since March and dealt with some 80 cases ranging from shoplifting to offences of violence.

The criminal justice system has often been criticised for its delays, and it is a sign of the government's concern that, in an age of austerity, it is investing £160m to digitise courtooms.

It wants information to be shared electronically, securely and efficiently across agencies in the criminal justice system.

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If the system crashes, you are not just talking about losing a document or a file, you could have a complete meltdown of the system within a court”

End Quote Greg Foxsmith Criminal advocate

A file not being in court should no longer lead to an adjournment.

Mr Green said: "Every year the courts and Crown Prosecution Service use roughly 160 million sheets of paper.

Security warning

"Stacked up this would be the same as 15 Mount Snowdons - literally mountains of paper. If we are to win in the global race this must change. It is time we move the court system into the 21st Century.

"This investment will help us get rid of our outdated paper-based system, and turn our criminal justice system into a digital and modern public service."

The action plan - called Transforming the Criminal Justice System - aims to build on the existing use of technology.

For some time CPS lawyers have worked from tablet devices and documents have been sent to defence lawyers via secure email. The action plan takes this on and includes:

  • Encouraging the police to use mobile devices, with access to real-time intelligence and local information, to start building case files from the street
  • Police evidence via video-link to become the norm not the exception
  • Legislating to enable the majority of high-volume, low-level "regulatory" cases, such as TV licence evasion and many traffic offences, to be dealt with away from traditional magistrates' courtrooms, which means freeing up the courts to deal with more serious cases
  • Supporting the extension of the Track My Crime system to other police areas. This initiative was launched by Avon and Somerset Constabulary and gives victims the opportunity to check the progress of their case online, including the name of the police officer with responsibility. It allows the police to send updates to victims on their case

While many lawyers welcome the government's investment, some have expressed fears about security and what might happen if the system crashed.

Greg Foxsmith, a criminal advocate, said: "If the system crashes, you are not just talking about losing a document or a file, you could have a complete meltdown of the system within a court.

"And if security is not watertight, highly sensitive and confidential information could be accessed. The history of government procurement of IT systems is not a happy one."

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