Digitalising the criminal justice system: Virtual courts and ‘Live Links’
In 2009, the Ministry of Justice started to use communication technologies to create, initially on an experimental basis, virtual courts. They enable a defendant, charged in a police station, to have their first hearing held over secure video link from the magistrates’ court. This can happen within hours of being charged and if the defendant pleads guilty, the court can often sentence on the same day.
The same equipment allows police witnesses to give evidence in court via the police station. This initiative, known as ‘Live Links’, began in July 2011. It allows for the police to free up time to carry out frontline duties rather than travelling to and from court.
Defence lawyers are concerned that the initiatives created problems. In particular, they aregue that the police still need to address fully the issue of how officers exhibit live evidence, such as their notebooks, when they are physically not present.
However, the Government is so convinced of the value of these two related initiatives that the announced at the end of November 2011 that by spring 2012, the entire criminal justice system is required to go digital, with secure electronic transfer of case files between the police, prosecutors and courts becoming the norm rather than the exception.
For more details see: http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/press-releases/moj/newsrelease281111a.htm