Digital upgrade for UK's justice

28 June 2013
By Tereza Pultarova
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Witnesses might not be required to attend court hearings personally and choose digital presence instead

Witnesses might not be required to attend court hearings personally and choose digital presence instead

Justice minister Damien Green has vowed to bring UK’s courtrooms into 21st century with a major technology upgrade.

As part of a major shake-up of the criminal justice system, £160m will be invested into wireless technology and digital evidence screens. By 2016, the majority of UK’s 500 courthouses should be equipped with a technology that will enable witnesses to give evidence via Internet communications tools and provide lawyers and judges with the possibility to access all vital documents on-line via their laptops or tablets.

Damien Green, UK’s Minister of Justice believes the upgrade will reduce costs and speed up the trials.  

"Every year the courts and Crown Prosecution Service use roughly 160 million sheets of paper,” Mr Green said ahead of a speech at the Policy Exchange. "Stacked up, this would be the same as 15 Mount Snowdon's - 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.”

Reducing the dependence on printed materials and overcoming the need for every trial participant to travel to the courthouses will be the major improvement. Prior to the project announcement, a pilot has been running at a Birmingham Magistrates’ Court since March this year. In its framework about 80 cases were handled ranging from shoplifting to violent behaviour.

"This will help provide swift and efficient justice, treating victims and witnesses with the care and consideration they deserve," Mr Green said.

Proposals have also been made to give police improved mobile devices with access to real-time intelligence and local information so they can start building case files from the street.

To give Magistrate courtrooms more time to focus on serious cases, most high-volume, low-level ‘regulatory’ cases, such as TV licence evasion and many traffic offences, will be transferred away from their responsibility.

Earlier this year, the minister unveiled a national Criminal Justice Board, which features a senior judge, a police and crime commissioner (PCC) representative and College of Policing chief executive Alex Marshall, to develop the strategy and oversee delivery of the project.

As part of a transparency drive, the Government is to allow television cameras into the Court of Appeal, while case timeliness data will be published on the police.uk website so the public can see how long cases are taking in their local area.

For victims, it was previously announced that the Government is to pilot the use of pre-recorded evidence for vulnerable victims and witnesses so that they are no longer cross-examined in open court.

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