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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Transforming the Criminal Justice System

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The digital justice system is slowly becoming a reality. Police now transfer more than 90% of case files electronically to the CPS and there are digital Court pilots in Birmingham and Bromley. The next priority is to digitise evidence with police officers' notebooks being overtaken by tablets and body worn video cameras which should not only streamline but also improve the quality of evidence.

Where is the criminal justice system heading?

I’m going to resist the temptation to answer “to hell in a handcart” and instead use this post to explore the MoJ’s official strategic direction via their recently updated (July 2014) Transforming the Criminal Justice System, Strategy and Action Plan – implementation update.

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Priorities

Chris Grayling sets out three key priorities, sayingtransforming cjs 2014 that he wants to create a CJS which:

• Cares for, and considers the needs of, victims and witnesses;
• Is digital; and
• Does things faster and right first time.

He also sets out his ambition to improve the way the CJS deals with specific crimes that require an enhanced response – sexual violence, hate crime, domestic violence, modern slavery and cybercrime.

Like most action plans, this document mainly lists achievements and sets out the next set of objectives. I’ve tried to highlight some of the more interesting ones below.

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Victims and Witnesses

In addition to the move to have Police and Crime Commissioners commission victims’ services at a local level, the MoJ also highlights the fact that vulnerable witnesses can now be cross-examined pre-trial to save them being subjected to the stressful court room atmosphere. It also notes the TrackMyCrime IT system, piloted by Avon and Somerset and currently being rolled out nationally, which enables victims to view information about the progress of their case and exchange messages with the investigating officer online.
The CPS is also establishing a network of Victim Liaison Units across England and Wales.

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A Digital CJS

The digital justice system is slowly becoming a reality. Police now transfer more than 90% of case files electronically to the CPS and there are digital Court pilots in Birmingham and Bromley. The next priority is to digitise evidence with police officers’ notebooks being overtaken by tablets and body worn video cameras which should not only streamline but also improve the quality of evidence.
As always, the main challenge will be to get the different systems used by individual criminal justice agencies to communicate seamlessly. If this Holy Grail can be achieved, there will be a massive reduction in the amount of duplication currently inherent in the system.

It will be interesting to see whether new probation providers will succeed in tackling the notoriously poor probation IT infrastructure.

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A CJS which is faster and right first time

The strategy acknowledges that digitisation itself will not resolve all the current roadblocks in the justice system. One of the main ways in which the MoJ is seeking to reduce stress on the system is to develop out-of-court disposals for minor offences. It’s also seeking to tackle the long-standing difficulties in the Crown Court System were only half of  trials go ahead on the day they are listed and an average case takes 304 days from offence to completion.

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Conclusion

The strategy document concludes by highlighting the MoJ’s commitment to transparency citing the broadcasts of decisions from the Court of Appeal and the publication of information about how long local cases take to go through the system from offence to outcome (published on police.uk).
I’d be very interested to hear from readers with any first-hand knowledge of these initiatives with your views on whether they have made a real difference or are merely window-dressing.
Please use the comments section below.

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