The ministers witnessed the video technology in action when they visited a Police station in North Kent and a virtual court in Chester. They saw how it allowed for swifter and more effective court hearings, benefitting victims, witnesses and saving valuable police hours.
Virtual courts allow a defendant, charged in a police station, to have their first hearing held over secure video link from the magistrates’ court. This can happen within hours of being charged and if the defendant pleads guilty, the court can often sentence on the same day.
The same equipment allows police witnesses to give evidence in court via the police station, an initiative known as ‘Live Links’, freeing up time to carry out frontline duties rather than travelling to and from court.
Courts Minister Jonathan Djanogly said: ‘The expansion of virtual courts clearly demonstrates the Government’s commitment to working with local police and the courts to ensure speedy and effective justice.
‘Not only do they enable the quick resolution of cases they also save time as defendants do not need to be transferred between prison and the court.’
Nick Herbert, Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, said: ‘Live links frees up valuable police time and resources to carry out their frontline duties and ensure crimes are dealt with more quickly and effectively.
This is important not only for the local police force but for victims and witnesses.’
The virtual courts initiative began in May 2009 in London (Camberwell Green) and Kent (Medway) and is now being extended this month to other locations in these areas as well as to Cheshire and Hertfordshire.
Live links, which is currently in use in Kent, London and Hertfordshire, is quickly expanding to other police force areas with Cheshire being the next area to implement the initiative.
The initiatives form part of a wider policy to digitalise, streamline and make the Criminal Justice system more efficient. By spring 2012, the entire criminal justice system is required to go digital, with secure electronic transfer of case files between the police, prosecutors and courts becoming the norm rather than the exception.
More than 1400 people have appeared using the virtual court system in Kent. Live links was introduced in July and in the first 24 cases, more than 100 hours of police time have been saved.