Written 9th May 2014 by Olliers Solicitors

The new Lord Chief Justice and the most senior Judge in the country Lord Thomas has called for internet video calling software such as Skype and FaceTime to allow defendants in criminal cases to appear in court from home. Lord Thomas has suggested that the use of such technology in pre-trial hearings held before Crown Court trials would greatly reduce the cost of bringing to court prisoners, defendants on bail and their legal team.

Internet Video Calling

Lord Thomas said:

“There are innovative ways of providing open justice bearing in mind things such as Skype and FaceTime.

“We need to loosen up our use of Skype and FaceTime, which current IT systems don’t really allow.

“I am very keen that we should because with most of what happens in court you don’t have problems with security, and we can be much more open to use of Skype and FaceTime than we traditionally have been.”

The suggestion is that the technology be used only in pre-trial hearings which are often only preparatory hearings where case management issues are identified, for example, agreeing witnesses and dealing with legal issues, as opposed to actual criminal trials. Lord Thomas said he had singled out Skype and FaceTime on the basis of cost, which would be far cheaper than the already installed video link systems which allow remanded prisoners to appear directly from prison.

Lord Thomas added:

“A lot of the difficulties we have are that to make a court case work well you need a pre-trial hearing.

“But it is often very expensive to get a prisoner or a person who is out on bail to come to court, to get the lawyers to come to court and I think a lot of this can be solved by the use of technology.”

Avoiding the Dock

However, the suggestions were criticised by many who said those charged with criminal offences should not be allowed to appear ‘from the comfort of their living room’. Others suggested that this could reduce the formality of proceedings and the ‘dignity’ of the court.

Sadiq Khan MP, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, said:

“I am shocked by this suggestion.

“Defendants appearing via Skype from the comfort of their own living room for their trial is taking justice on the cheap to a new low.

“It’s ridiculous that defendants should be given the option of avoiding their day in the dock while witnesses, including the victim, have made the effort to go to court.

“Being charged with a criminal offence is a serious matter and should be treated as such by the defendant.”

Members of the legal profession appeared to agree with the suggestion agreeing with the notion that pre-trial hearings can be an inefficient use of resources.

James Clappison, a barrister and the Tory MP for Hertsmere, said:

“Pre-trial hearings are often a formality.

“They are held to work out how long the trial will last and who is required as a witness. It seems to me a sensible area to look for ways to save money.”

Nicola Moseley

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