Newly-appointed Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss today backed a £1bn programme to modernise the courts in a paper that unveils plans for vulnerable victims and witnesses to record their evidence before trial and proposes that low-level magistrates courts hearings are dealt with entirely online.
The joint vision paper, called Transforming our Justice System includes plans to scrap paper forms and ‘go digital’ in every court and tribunal in England and Wales.
Transforming our Justice System, presented today (15 September) by the Ministry of Justice and HM Judiciary, outlines plans to enable certain defendants to plead guilty and pay fines online, beginning with transport fare dodging. The paper says: “Defendants would log on to an online system to see the evidence against them before entering a plea. If they plead guilty, they can opt in to an online system which allows them to view the penalty, accept the conviction and penalty, and pay their fine.
“This would allow defendants to conclude their case faster and with greater certainty, and means magistrates and courts can focus their resources and attentions where they are most needed.”
Overall the government has pledged to invest £700m to modernise the courts and tribunal system and a further £270m to develop a fully-connected criminal courtroom by 2020.
Already more than 12 million pages of evidence have been put online and video link systems installed in 130 Crown Courts. Digital in-court presentation equipment has been introduced in the crown and magistrates courts to allow the presentation of digital data, such as CCTV, directly from parties’ laptops, while the web-based Crown Court Digital Case System has been implemented across all crown courts. The government is currently testing the use of mobile link ‘vans’ which could be deployed where they are needed to provide a more flexible platform for video links across the prison, court and tribunal estate. A van is currently supporting video link hearings at Thames Magistrates and Snaresbrook Crown Court.
Truss, who was appointed to her current role in July, said: “We have the tools and technology to cut paperwork, to deliver swifter justice and to make the experience more straightforward.”
In his analysis of today’s paper BBC legal correspondent Clive Coleman said: “Make no mistake about it, today’s paper marks a major shift in the way we do crown court criminal trials.”