Press release

Damian Green: ‘Digital Courtrooms’ to be rolled out nationally

Courtrooms will be fully digital by 2016 ending the court service’s ‘outdated’ reliance on paper, Justice Minister Damian Green said today.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, he 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.

Transforming the criminal justice system

The investment will provide:

  • Wifi in the majority of 500 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, 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. The screens also allow CCTV footage and other video and 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.

Justice Minister Damian Green 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‘This investment will help us get rid of our outdated paper-based system, and turn our criminal justice system into a digital and modern public service.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 action plan, ‘Transforming the Criminal Justice System’, also proposes:

  • Digital embedded in everyday working – building on the current system where police digitally transfer case information to CPS, encourage digital working. This will mean police can use mobile devices, with access to real-time intelligence and local information, to start building case files from the street and giving evidence via video-link is the norm, not the exception.
  • A CJS which is faster and right the first time – 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;
  • A transparent and responsive CJS – supporting the extension of the ‘Track My Crime’ system to other police areas. This successful initiative, launched by Avon and Somerset Constabulary, gives victims the opportunity to check the progress of their case online, including the name of the responsible police officer. It allows the police to send updates to victims to update them on their case, creating a more open and transparent criminal justice system.
  • Care and consideration for victims and witnesses – provide extra support for victims and witnesses by offering them greater protection throughout the criminal justice process, for example by making it easier for witnesses to give evidence by video, and looking at the case for creating an independent complaints ombudsman for victims of crime. We recently announced that we will pilot the use of pre-recorded evidence for vulnerable victims and witnesses so that they are no longer cross-examined in open court.
  • Working in partnership – the Criminal Justice Board, which was set up in February, has developed this strategy and plan and will oversee its delivery. It is made up of leaders from across the criminal justice system, including the police and the Victims’ Commissioner, so that the system pulls together as one to make a success of these reforms.

We have also made significant progress in freeing up police time to ensure more time is spent on the frontline. If these changes are implemented by all forces they could save around 4.5m officer hours a year. That includes charging suspects by post saving two hours of police time per suspect – some 300,000 officer hours per year. We are also establishing the Police ICT Company to improve existing police IT systems and support forces who want to invest in new technologies like smartphones and develop apps to save time.

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 allows savings in police time, as well as enabling vulnerable and intimidated witnesses to give evidence in a more convenient location away from the offender.

The test court has been in place since March, and has been used in over 80 cases ranging from shoplifting to offences of violence.

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.’

National policing lead on criminal justice Chief Constable Chris Eyre said: ‘This strategy is the culmination of a great deal of work to plan for a lean, modern and responsive criminal justice system in an era of significant austerity and enormous change.

‘Digitisation and simplification of criminal justice systems will ensure that scarce police resources can be used more effectively for the benefit of victims and communities.

‘Victims and witnesses will receive better support and information through the use of modern technologies and proposals to make processes more efficient such as police led prosecution of simple and uncontested matters in the magistrates courts and case management initiatives led by the judiciary.’

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.

Actions

A digital CJS:

  • Enabling police to use mobile devices, with access to real-time intelligence, to start building digital case files from the street and giving evidence via video-link as the norm, not the exception.
  • Cases to be heard in digital courtrooms – the first one is being piloted in Birmingham.
  • The CPS and courts are collaborating to create a common IT platform and a CJS wide digital data store for information on the cases going through the CJS which all parties can access.
  • Rolling out the digital case file to replace the current paper ones.

A CJS which is faster and right first time:

  • Improve the quality of file preparation to ensure more trials go ahead on the day planned.
  • Allow the majority of high-volume, low-level cases to be dealt with away from traditional magistrates’ courtrooms – ensuring we focus limited resources on the cases that need them.
  • Enable the police to prosecute low-level shoplifting, rather than referring the decision to the CPS.
  • Ensure the police and CPS identify likely guilty pleas early – so they can be dealt with at the first hearing.

A transparent and responsive CJS:

  • Allow television cameras into the Court of Appeal to open up the court process and allow people to see and hear judges’ decisions in their own words.
  • Publish case timeliness data on the police.uk website, enabling the public to see how long cases are taking in their local area.
  • Publish local police performance and expenditure data and increase opportunities for the public to engage with their police force, such as voting on local priorities.

Care and consideration for victims and witnesses:

  • Provide extra support for witnesses who are at risk of dropping out of proceedings.
  • Make it easier for witnesses to give evidence by video, reviewing progress.
  • Provide an improved complaints process for victims and consider creating an independent complaints ombudsman for the CJS.

The right response to crime:

  • Improve the consistency and take-up of special measures for vulnerable and intimidated witnesses.
  • Pilot Section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, which provides for pre-recorded cross-examination of a vulnerable witness.
  • Assess how disability hate crime has been handled.
  • Revamp community impact statements.
  • Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice to hold a number of events with stakeholders on equality in the CJS.

Working in partnership: * Communicate the Criminal Justice Board’s priorities to local partnerships and strengthen the link between national and local level. * Set out a more common approach across the CJS to staff training, objectives and talent management.

Delivering the plan

The Criminal Justice Board, which consists of leaders from across the different CJS agencies, is responsible for delivering the plan.

Notes to Editors

  • A copy of the action plan ‘Transforming the CJS: A Strategy and Action Plan to Reform the Criminal Justice System’ is available on GOV.UK after 11am.
  • The digital ‘Concept Court’ in Birmingham is the only one in the country that is a completely paperless court. Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court will also soon roll out the solution for electronic presentation of evidence for testing in its courtroom, alongside in-court Wi-Fi.
  • Currently live-links are used in 9 criminal justice areas. These are: Cheshire, Essex, Kent, London, North Wales, South Wales, Hertfordshire, Sussex and West Midlands. This will be rolled out to a further 18 areas by the end of this financial year.
  • For further information contact the Ministry of Justice Press Office on 020 3334 3536.
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