Practice and Procedure

Warning over digital move

PUBLISHED June 7, 2012

Friday 08 June 2012 by Catherine Baksi

Criminal firms should not invest in 'kit' to work electronically until all agents in the justice system are fully committed, a solicitor piloting the digital scheme with the Crown Prosecution Service has said.

Liverpool firm Kirwans has been taking part in a digital working pilot with CPS Merseyside and Cheshire since April. When a defendant represented by Kirwans is charged, the firm emails the CPS, which provides advance information and other case papers electronically over secure email. This is uploaded on to the firm's case management system (CMS) and casework is done digitally.

Kirwans does civil and criminal work across three offices. Its criminal team comprises 14 solicitors and seven clerks, who work on laptops - either iPads or BlackBerry PlayBooks - using free Adobe software.

Head of the criminal team Nama Zarroug told the Gazette that digital working is beneficial, because it allows lawyers to access files whichever office they are in and to work remotely from court. She said: 'It will save us money in the long run, provided the pilot is successful and everyone within the criminal justice system gets fully on board.' Zarroug said the criminal team saves time emailing prisons to book appointments, instead of spending hours on the phone, and no longer needs to employ someone to deal with the post.

But she added: 'The scheme is still at an early stage and not everyone is fully on board, so it is not worth firms investing yet.'

Legal aid applications still have to be completed on paper and the Legal Services Commission audit process requires a paper file, so case information served electronically still has to be printed out.

All magistrates' courts can receive digital case files from the CPS and all first hearing information is being served electronically to the court. Electronic working in the Crown court will begin later this year.