The specific and immediate technology proposals of the Swift and Sure white paper are just the beginning. The white paper makes it clear that: “Our reforms will provide the impetus for the next stage of the CJS Efficiency Programme.”
The immediate priorities being considered include the police capturing evidence and other material in a digital format at the outset so that it can be shared with partners, through the use of portable video cameras, laptops and other digital devices. Also being considered is the potential for use of this equipment to inform frontline professionals how to deal with offenders on the street, for example by enabling identities to be verified, and making any previous offending history available very quickly.
The digital case file, and the streamlined processes underpinning it, could be used to identify further opportunities to improve the speed and quality of proceedings, while moving to fully digital court rooms.
The white paper goes on to say: “We are looking at ways in which we can expand the use of technology in areas of criminal justice business not considered so far and to exploit the technology that is already in place.” The benefits of combining the purchasing power of criminal justice agencies to secure better value for money are being considered. “The police, Crown Prosecution Service and Ministry of Justice will work together to ensure that during the next phase of investment (over the next four years) their purchasing power is combined where appropriate through the Police ICT company, to maximise benefits.”
The white paper points out that the different systems used by criminal justice partners are still not fully joined up with each other, and in places require manual intervention rather than automatic sharing of information. Much of the material collected in an investigation needs to be converted into a digital format that can be shared with partners, a laborious manual process. Attention will also be paid to the fact that some types of proceedings which regularly come before the magistrates’ courts – for example, breaches of bail or the terms of a suspended sentence – are currently outside the scope of digital working.
On the use of technology to connect with communities, “smart mobile telephones, and social media websites, offer opportunities to change the way in which criminal justice services interact with victims, witnesses and their communities, who will increasingly expect to be able to use them to engage with criminal justice services more immediately.” To help to make clearer the workings of the criminal justice system there are proposals to publish relevant and easily accessible information about local crime, and its outcomes, the performance of local criminal justice services, and the reoffending rates they achieve.
There are no plans to allow broadcasting of whole trials from the Crown Court but, over a longer period, it is intended to extend broadcasting to judges’ sentencing remarks only in proceedings in the Crown Court. In all cases, the judge will have the final say in whether proceedings should be broadcast.
As the new president of the Law Society said recently: “The starting point for lots of people will be an acceptance that change has to happen. Once that has been accepted, the next step is to decide what to change and how to change it.” This white paper leaves no option to all involved in the criminal justice system to be open to change.