Guidance

Video conferencing for trial and sentencing

A summary of evidence relating to video conferencing for trial and sentencing, and its potential advantages and disadvantages.

Use of video conferencing between court, prison and police stations is increasing in the UK and worldwide. It aims to help modernise and streamline criminal justice, reduce costs and improve efficiencies. It is increasingly used for court appearances taking place in prisons and police stations.

What do we know?

  • we know that video conferencing reduces waiting times and transport costs
  • there is insufficient research about its impact on legal proceedings, perceptions of justice and outcomes, therefore, we don’t know if it is an effective alternative to in-person court appearances
  • the need for good quality and reliable technology means video conferencing is costly - its effectiveness has not yet been robustly tested in a prison setting
  • research, insights and experiences from use of video conferencing in criminal justice and other settings indicates potential advantages and disadvantages

What are the potential advantages of video conferencing?

  • increasing the efficiency of court proceedings by reducing time and costs.
  • offering practical solutions to problems of transporting prisoners, for example, reducing costly and long-distance journeys
  • reducing security risks and the potential harm to prisoners and the public
  • creating a more responsive and engaging interaction between legal practitioners and clients Compared with telephone contact
  • increasing the accessibility of services to certain groups or areas where service provision may be limited.

What are the potential disadvantages of Video Conferencing?

  • negative impact on the number and length of hearings required to finalise a case
  • adverse perceptions of procedural justice by clients and practitioners, arising from physical separation from the legal process and parties involved
  • high set up costs and capability of technology
  • a recent report has raised concerns about disproportionate impact on particular vulnerable groups1, for example, people with mental health problems, learning disabilities, autism, and children. - it can be hard to recognise when a defendant has a disability or support needs when they appear in court in person, and harder when they appear on video
  • some research2 suggests that video conferencing is not perceived to be ‘neutral technology’ by some - it is believed to shape interactions and impacts on people’s experiences of probation

What do we not yet know?

Further research is needed to identify:

  • accurate cost/benefit analysis to quantify technology costs, offset against cost savings
  • the types of cases heard and its impact on the legal process and final resolution of cases
  • any unintended consequences. These might include: the legal process, procedural justice and outcomes of all parties involved such as prisoners, magistrates and solicitors.

Further reading

Virtual Court pilot Outcome evaluation. Ministry of Justice Research Series: 21/10 MoJ (2010)

References

  1. Defendants on video – conveyor belt justice or a revolution in access? Transform Justice (2017)

  2. Probation practice in the information age Phillips, Jake (2017)

Published 15 May 2019