“Technology has a critical role to play in delivering efficient criminal justice. Huge sums of money were spent on IT in the criminal justice agencies during the last decade, in particular the CJS IT programme, but the public did not secure a sufficient return on these substantial investments. Programmes, including LIBRA for the magistrates’ courts, and the C-NOMIS case management system for managing offenders, suffered years of delays, ran massively over budget, and failed to deliver the functionality promised.”
This is the trenchant opening to chapter 5 of the Swift and Sure white paper. While there is always the pleasure of taking a side-swipe at a previous administration, it is difficult to fault this damning critique. Chapter 5 – ‘Efficient justice through technology’ –sets out how the government intends to ensure that the criminal justice system makes full use of technological solutions in future.
The proposals include extending the use of digital case files for all police forces and into all magistrates’ courts and Crown Court cases. The white paper states that all CPS prosecutors are now equipped with a tablet device containing the digital case files instead of working with bundles of paper in court. It pledges that by April 2013 all 43 police forces will be preparing digital case files and that digital working will be introduced into all magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court.
The white paper states that video technology has an important role to play in improving the productivity and accessibility of the criminal justice system, and when used properly can bring significant benefits. It enables proceedings to take place more quickly, reducing the cost of transporting prisoners and the risk of escapes. It is also claimed that it provides convenience and security for, perhaps vulnerable, victims and witnesses, particularly if they live some distance from the court in which proceedings are taking place.
“We believe that, where it is appropriate, video should be used routinely in proceedings”, the white paper states. “There will always be some circumstances where evidence can only be given, and properly challenged, in person, and for these reasons, the judiciary will always make the final decision. But in future we envisage many more victims, witnesses, defendants and criminal justice professionals playing their part in proceedings via a video link.”
Previous initiatives to realise the benefits of video technology have been developed independently and are not well integrated with each other. A £10 million programme of investment in video technology is in progress.
Currently the existing legislation limits both the types of proceedings in which video can be used and the people who may participate in proceedings by video link. It is now proposed to extend the use of video to enable police officers to apply to magistrates for search warrants, to make applications to extend the time that a suspect can be held in police detention before charge, and to interview prisoners. The white paper pledges that: “We will bring forward legislation to enable these matters to be conducted via video links as soon as Parliamentary time allows.”
When the white paper was published it was the proposed procedural reforms “to ensure swift and sure justice” that hit the headlines. In the long run it could be the technological proposals that will have the most effect on the criminal justice system.