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Criminal justice system failing to fully implement digitisation

The criminal justice system needs much more work to ensure it can use IT to improve delivery of services, according to a new report.

The joint report from Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) says that despite a drive for increased digitisation, partly to compensate for budget cuts, police and prosecutors are still failing to completely implement digital technology to help carry out criminal justice processes.

The report, ‘Delivering Justice in a Digital Age’, based on inspections of how police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) branches worked in Kent, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Northamptonshire, London and the West Midlands, said that not all partner organisations’ computers ‘talked’ to each other and many forces still carried out manual procedures such as scanning in paper documents and producing print copies of images.

HMCPSI chief inspector Kevin McGinty said: “The digitisation of casework is fundamentally important if we are to ensure that the criminal justice remains effective and efficient. It allows for the faster, cheaper and more effective way of dealing with what used to involve the creation, storage and transfer of very large amounts of paper documentation.

“Our report shows that a number of improvements and steps have been made to modernise the criminal justice system, but that there remains a lot of work to be done to make the system fully digital. It is essential that the criminal justice agencies find a way for their computer systems to talk to each other effectively, thereby reducing delays and speeding the process to the benefit of victims and all court users.

“We will continue to monitor the development of digitisation.”

The report also pointed out that there is currently no reliable digital system for sharing evidence, meaning that evidence had to be sent to the CPS on discs and were often misplaced.

It also said that the criminal justice system lacked a national overview of the savings gained from digitisation and staff training in using new technology was variable.

However, the report highlighted examples of good practice, including the installation of wi-fi in magistrates’ courts, an online charging facility allowing the police and CPS to prioritise workloads, a prosecutor app which enables cases to be updated online from the court in real-time, and the use of body cameras by police.

It recommends that the National Criminal Justice Board reviews the Criminal Justice Exchange to ensure its capacity is fit for purpose; that police forces, courts and the CPS undertake a comprehensive national cost and benefits assessment resulting from digitisation and develop a system to ensure that all forms of evidence can be accessed electronically; and that all police forces and CPS areas urgently review their procedures for transporting hard media.


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