In the Queen’s speech last month, Her Majesty confirmed that ‘legislation will be introduced to modernise the courts system’. Enabling more efficient communication and sharing of documentation between the police, CPS, prison services, legal representatives and the courts, has been a primary objective of the criminal justice system for quite some time. Using all of the technology available to us to ensure maximum cooperation and communication, and to minimize wasted time and costs for everyone involved, is essential to an effective modern legal system.
The Prison and Courts Bill, currently at the committee stage in the House of Commons, looks to enhance measures already put in place to modernise court procedure, whereby documents are increasingly, and now almost exclusively, served electronically. For example, the use of an online digital case system, means that there is now far less paperwork involved in the day to day of our justice system, particularly for minor offences. Criminal courts increasingly use prison video links to streamline the process, and prevent wasted time and money on advocates travelling to prisons in order to speak with their clients.
However, there have been teething problems in acclimatising to the new working environment, and the influx of technological advancements has not come without its challenges. Legal representatives often struggle to connect with the prisons through video links, and defendants are not always in the conference room at their designated appointment time. Despite the fact that documentation can now be submitted electronically, defence lawyers must still be given realistic deadlines in order to prepare for hearings, draft statements, and so forth. Overcoming challenges such as these, ought to be the chief aim of any legislation brought by this government, as modernization should be embraced and utilized as effectively as possible to enable legal professionals to maximize their value.
Furthermore, there are areas in which technology could be used to improve efficiency, where it is currently not in place at all. Prison video links being made available to solicitors’ offices could save a vast amount of time and expense, enabling all conferences to take place without travelling to prisons. Interlocutory hearings could potentially also be held via videoconference, freeing up the courts for more significant matters. It is crucial that the Prison and Courts Bill addresses the issues we are currently facing, whilst also considering new measures which could simplify court procedure.