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Delivering Justice in a Digital Age

A joint HMCPS and HMIC report finds that, despite some progress, seamless digital working across the Criminal Justice System is still some way off.

While some progress has been made to achieve full digital working in court casework processes, there is a great deal more to be done. That is the verdict of this month’s report following a joint inspection of digital case preparation and presentation in the criminal justice system. This inspection was a joint effort between HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.

The inspectors emphasise the importance of the digitisation of casework processes, saying it is essential if the criminal justice system is to remain effective in the modern environment. They acknowledge the “substantial progress” that has been made so far, particularly praising those police forces who are working collaboratively to purchase IT systems and “reduce the difficulties of transferring material to the CPS.”

But the report notes that different stakeholders within the Criminal Justice System (police, the Crown Prosecution Service, HM Courts and Tribunals Services) have been moving at different speeds to ensure their processes are digitised, and points out that at a “national level the police governance arrangements for implementing the various digital initiatives are too complicated and need to be simplified.”

Some of the problems the inspectors identified are, in the words of the report, “all too familiar”, with some court digital systems being introduced that “do not talk to each other, wasting resources when material has to be reinput and not providing full value for money.” Additionally, some hardware installed to assist magistrates’ court presentation was found to be difficult to use in conjunction with other equipment. It was also observed that that the obligation to provide hard media evidence, such as CCTV tapes, to the CPS hinders the digital movement of work and increases the risk of losing the evidence.

The inspectors conclude that progress in establishing a modernised digital criminal justice system has clearly been made, and some of the issues identified might be addressed by the eventual rollout of the Common Platform Programme. Overall however “the vision of a digital end-to-end system, where information is captured once by a police officer responding to a crime and then flows through the system without duplication or reworking, is still some way from becoming reality.”

The key areas where progress needs to be made are:

  • Agencies still rely on the manual input of some paper documents. Victim and witness statements are generally handwritten by the police then scanned in, which often makes the documents hard to read
  • Agencies’ computer systems still do not directly ‘talk’ to each other
  • There is no single, national police IT system so information is transferred to the CPS in different ways, and each police force visited during the inspection has bought a different body worn video camera solution with little consideration of linking such projects together and maximising value for money
  • There is no reliable way of sharing CCTV, interview and 999 recordings, photos and body worn video footage digitally, so discs still have to be sent from the police to the CPS, leading to an increased risk of the misplacing of these discs
  • Although the CPS can send information to the defence digitally, many defence representatives do not use the necessary secure email system so the CPS has to print off a paper copy and courier it to the court
  • The HMCTS Court Store system was slowing down the court dramatically in cases involving multiple defendants, as the updating of more than one defendant’s record at the same time wasn’t possible, even if the same update applies to more than one defendant

techUK has long been advocating the adoption of common standards across the CJS, and looks forward to working with relevant stakeholders over the course of this year as they work to achieve full digital working across the system.

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