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The Impact of Digital Adoption within Courts and Tribunals

Guest Blog by Joely Lomas, tech-UK’s Local Public Services and Justice and Emergency Services Intern reflects on her summer internship.

I’m from Swansea, Wales but have lived in the US for the past 6 years. I completed my undergraduate degree in International Relations at Drake University and decided to further my educational studies at Grand Canyon University while pursuing my MBA, alongside competing for the national tennis championships of college sports. 

I spent my internship with techUK working across the Local Public Services and Justice and Emergency Services Programmes where I participated in and supported workshops, working groups and committee meetings. I had the pleasure of connecting with a variety of techUK members; all of whom have integral roles across the justice system. I had the pleasure of working with great people in a myriad of ways that helped me to gain a better understanding of, particularly, the impact COVID-19 has had on the criminal justice system and, in this case, the urgent need for digital adoption. Here are some of my thoughts. 

In the UK, courts and tribunals have suffered the rippling effects of the global pandemic as the backlog of cases have surged. With strict lockdowns enforced across the nation, it was clear the vital role technology could play to ensure hearings continued. I attended techUK’s ‘Digital Courts, Common Platform and Forensics’ subgroup meeting where I learnt the great work being done to digitise courts and tribunals.  

This particular subgroup has 4 core objectives, with one of these focusing on data, particularly how the group can build stakeholder confidence in the sharing of data. From my own research, it was interesting to read the report by Dr Natalie Byrom, Director of Research at The Legal Education Foundation, who wants to ensure the court reform initiative provides access to justice for all its users. Not only will there be increased accessibility through the digitisation of courts and tribunals but greater connectivity between agencies to compile large volumes of data in one platform. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of online services to improve the accessibility for users and, reduce the time it takes to process appeals and applications. 

 Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for the acceleration of digital adoption across our courts, there are of course security and risk implications which must be considered. There are great possibilities and benefits of digital adoption at one end, but it can inevitably lead to uncertainties and insecurities. The use of the cloud for example, as seen in the US, could prove to be an effective solution as the amount of data generated by applications sore. 

Another benefit of digitizing the justice system, is the huge extent of people it will positively impact, from the victim, juror to judges and lawyers. As of now, there is not one database or one form of communication between all aspects of the justice system from Ministry of Justice (MoJ), HM Courts and Tribunals (HMCTS) to law enforcement and therefore we see many organisations working in silos. This can cause a disconnect and push back the time it takes to complete appeals and process information. With this, there is a huge opportunity to introduce new technologies to improve communication and data sharing between organizations.  

When it comes to emerging technologies, I would like to highlight artificial intelligence (AI) and automation which, although we must be mindful of the ethical implications, could have a positive impact on service delivery across HMCTS. I believe it is important to gain a better understanding as to the power of these technologies and look elsewhere to understand where they have been successfully adopted.  Through the application of AI and automation services, redaction processing, and other time intensive procedures could be resolved, freeing up time for the workforce to focus on more complex services where face to face would be beneficial. Through digital adoption, new transformative technologies will shape the court system of tomorrow and set the precedent for the future direction of the justice system.  

My time with techUK has highlighted the importance of industry collaboration with the MoJ, HMCTS and law enforcement to modernize current systems in place to improve the lives of others on a tremendous scale. In Wales, we have a saying, ‘Together Stronger’, embodied by the Welsh football association which can be applicable in all aspects of society. This has never been more appropriate as we look forward to moving from traditional ways of working and transition to a new ‘digital’ era post pandemic.  


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