Courtrooms will be fully digital by 2016, ending the court service’s ‘outdated’ reliance on paper, Justice Minister Damian Green said today.
At the launch of a wide-ranging action plan bringing together key people from across the criminal justice system, including the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, and court service, it was announced that the Government will be investing £160 million for ‘digital courtrooms’ and improved IT systems across agencies, meaning information can be shared electronically, securely and efficiently.
The investment will provide:
- Wifi in the majority of court houses so the prosecution, defence, judiciary and court staff can access all necessary court documents at the touch of a button and also access office systems from the courtroom thus helping to prevent adjournments caused by missing information;
- Digital Evidence Screens so the defence and prosecution can present evidence digitally rather than relying on paper copies which can cause huge delays if lost or misplaced. Such screens will allow CCTV footage and other video/audio evidence to be presented easily in court;
- New Court Presentation and Collaboration Software allowing prosecution, defence, and judiciary to navigate complex Crown court cases with ease; and
- New funding for IT where needed, to increase digital workings and reduce the use of paper in the system by the police and court system.
Damian Green, Justice Minister said:
“Every year the courts and Crown Prosecution Service use roughly 160 million sheets of paper. Stacked up this would be the same as fifteen 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.
“This investment will help us get rid of our outdated paper-based system, and turn our criminal justice system into a digital and modern public service.
“This will help provide swift and efficient justice, treating victims and witnesses with the care and consideration they deserve.”
The concept of a ‘digital court’ is currently being tested at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court which is the only paperless courtroom in the country.
The ‘digital court’ in Birmingham brings together various time-saving technology. This includes in-court Wi-Fi, digital screens to present evidence, and police to court video-links, allowing witnesses and police officers to give evidence via video technology. Live-links are currently used in nine police areas, and allow savings in police time, as well as enabling vulnerable and intimidated witnesses to give evidence in a more convenient location.
The test court has been in place since March, and has been used in over 80 cases.
Peter Lewis, Chief Executive of the Crown Prosecution Service said:
“This is great news for the criminal justice system. The Crown Prosecution Service has been leading the way on moving to digital working in the criminal justice system since 2010, and we have achieved a lot already, such as the instantaneous transfer of files between police and prosecutors.
“Today’s investment will move us much closer towards the goal of eliminating paperwork throughout the life of a criminal case – and all of the costs and waste that come with it.”
Baroness Helen Newlove, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales said:
“I am encouraged that the Criminal Justice Action Plan puts the needs of victims and witnesses at the centre of reform. It is essential that victims and witnesses have confidence in the system and practical measures such as making better use of new technology are step in the right direction.
“To ensure better outcomes for victims and witnesses we must move away from a one size fits all approach – that’s why I’m so supportive of changes that ensure greater transparency and flexibility. I also welcome the Government’s review of the complaints process for victims and witnesses and strongly believe that any such system should have strong, independent leadership.
“I will continue to closely monitor progress in this area and make sure that the voice of victims is heard.”
The action plan will be rolled out over the next two years, with the aim of making the justice system more efficient for the public.