A Digital CJS

PUBLISHED September 25, 2013

Below is a summary of the latest attempt by government to set out a vision for digital working in the criminal justice system: "Transforming the CJS, A Strategy and Action Plan to Reform the Criminal Justice System? was published in June 2013. The paper indicates that the CJS is now working digitally in a number of important areas:

  • Most police forces are transferring over 90% of case files electronically to the CPS.
  • Around 50,000 prison-to-court video hearings take place annually.
  • 3,500 tablet devices were provided to CPS prosecutors to present cases electronically in court. (Those in the defence community are rightly envious but stories abound concerning lack of reliability, including one ? possibly apocryphal ? of a tablet spontaneously combusting in the court-room!)
  • Video conferencing equipment is available in all remand prisons, over half of magistrates? courts and all Crown Court buildings.

But these are small steps and government accepts that it needs to go much further, by creating a CJS where (1) police adopt mobile devices with access to real- time intelligence relevant to their role, location and local tasking, and can begin building case files from the street; (2) there is a simple, easy-to-use digital file for each crime type, ensuring that the streamlined file is used by all parts of the CJS to prepare cases,

helping to reduce the unnecessary additions and omissions, and eradicating the mountains of unnecessary paper that too often characterise the system; (3) evidence can be presented digitally in court, dramatically reducing the millions of pieces of paper; (4) the default option is for the police and witnesses to give evidence by video so they don?t have to travel or hang around in court; and (5) the public contact the CJS and manage their own services online as most people do in every other aspect of their lives.

The Plan contains a number of different actions. The most important are:

  • test a simplified digital case file for traffic and shoplifting cases by April 2014;
  • establish the digital case file for other offences and roll out to all areas by April 2015;
  • complete business case for digital courts by the end of 2013;
  • end reliance on paper by 2015/16; and
  • complete business case for the common platform by the end of 2013 and start delivering in early 2014.

Alongside this, in policing, the "Digital First? programme is beginning to demonstrate the transformative potential of new technologies. For example, three police forces have used body-worn video to improve evidence capture. Police report that this has increased public confidence, reduced fear and malicious complaints against officers, and moderated behaviour by members of the public. And Hampshire Constabulary have piloted mobile working using a variety of devices including BlackBerries, mobile data terminals and laptops, saving police time travelling to and from the station and allowing them to work better on the move.

Taken together, these programmes are intended to provide the building blocks that will enable the CJS to complete its transformation into a digital service. Central to this will be the development of a new digital case file. As noted above, having tested the simplified file for traffic and shoplifting cases, the government will extend this to cover other offences with a view to establishing a national digital case file standard by April next year.

Birmingham magistrates? court is testing out digital courtrooms, where there is no reliance on paper, allowing all parties to operate digitally.

In the longer term, the digital case file and the creation of digital courtrooms will lay the foundations for developing a common digital information platform for the CJS. There will then be a single information management system allowing for evidence and case information to be shared across the CJS.

So much for the police, prosecution and courts powered by government resources. What about Cinderella? In a follow-up article, I shall set out my firm?s progress towards going digital in a way that benefits a defence practitioner and saves money and time as a means of surviving the impact of likely cuts to public funding.