Queen’s Speech: Bar Council urges caution over online guilty pleas

The Bar Council has reacted with caution to the news in the Queen’s Speech today that the Government plans to push ahead with the Courts Bill, which will enable those charged with less serious criminal offences to opt to plead guilty, accept a conviction and pay a statutory fixed penalty online.
“Using a smartphone to plead guilty to a criminal offence may seem convenient, but the Bar Council has warned that Government plans to roll out online pleas, outlined in today’s Queen’s Speech, risk down-playing potentially serious consequences for defendants,” a statement issued by the Bar Council this afternoon (21 June) said.
Responding to Government plans to introduce the Courts Bill, Chair of the Bar Andrew Langdon QC said: “Defendants must be offered a genuine choice about how they enter their plea. They must also be made aware of their right to consult a lawyer.
“Inviting defendants to use an online procedure to indicate a plea risks trivialising potentially serious consequences for those accused of committing offences.”
Other provisions of the Bill introduce digital services that will allow businesses to pursue their cases quickly, enabling them to recover debts more easily.
Langdon QC added: “Technology has the potential to enhance our system of justice and to provide greater convenience to some court users. If used correctly, it can also save unnecessary expenditure. But we must ensure that convenience and cost do not override other important considerations.”