A joint report authored by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) finds that “good progress” has been made in the move towards a fully digital system, but more work needs to be done and the impetus for change maintained.
Digitisation of the criminal justice system is necessary for the modernisation of that system and to make it run faster and more efficiently. The inspection found that, although there has been substantial incremental progress in achieving the aim of fully-digital working, the vision of a digital end-to-end system – ie the process by which the information captured by one police officer can flow through the system without any duplication or reworking taking place – is “still some way away” from actually being achieved.
Inspectors found that there have been a number of very positive benefits as a result of digitisation, such as the installation of Wi-Fi in Magistrates’ Courts, an online charging facility allowing the police and the CPS to prioritise workloads and a ‘Prosecutor App’ which enables cases to be updated online from the court in real-time.
However, issues highlighted as still requiring resolution include the use of multiple IT systems by the police service, which means that information is transferred to the CPS in different ways.
CCTV, interview and 999 recordings, photos and body-worn video footage are still having to be shared via a disc rather than online, leading to the risk of them being misplaced, which of course presents a significant security risk. Further, agencies are still having to input some paper documents on a manual basis, in turn creating a duplication of effort.
Effective and efficient
HMCPSI Chief Inspector Kevin McGinty explained: “The digitisation of casework is fundamentally important if we’re to ensure that the criminal justice system remains effective and efficient. It allows for a 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.”
McGinty continued: “Our report shows that a number of improvements and steps have been made to modernise the criminal justice system, but that there remains much work to be done in order to make the system fully digital. It’s essential that the criminal justice agencies find a way for their computer systems to talk to each other effectively, thereby reducing delays and speeding up the process for the benefit of victims and all court users. On that basis, we will continue to monitor the development of digitisation.”
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams commented: “It’s important that the police service and the Crown Prosecution Service work together to create an efficient criminal justice system that provides the best outcomes for the victims of crime. Police forces also need to reduce duplication in the development and procurement of IT systems. This will help improve the consistency of how forces share information with each other and the CPS.”
In addition, Williams outlined: “I was pleased to see positive examples of where police forces have embraced digital working, which had provided real benefits and improvements to the criminal justice system. For instance, some forces were opting to provide evidence via video link, which drastically reduced the time that police officers needed to spend in court. There are also benefits for the police forces themselves. In one force, the Witness Care Team was able to work from home as the witness care tasks had been completely computerised. This allowed the force to save money by cutting back on office space.”
Concluding her comments, Williams observed: “I’d like to see the police service as a whole follow these examples of good practice and embrace technology to assist officers in data capture. This can help reduce time-consuming tasks and, therefore, improve the efficiency of the police service’s role in the criminal justice system.”
Comment from the CPS
A CPS spokesperson said: “The CPS has made a significant contribution, along with the other criminal justice agencies, towards creating and delivering an end-to-end digital justice system. The majority of prosecutors and staff are now working digitally, routinely presenting cases using laptops and the ‘Prosecutor App’, which enables Magistrates’ Court cases to be updated immediately. There’s now Wi-Fi available in almost all courts, allowing the CPS and our partners to work digitally. We will continue to align with our criminal justice partners in order to create a seamless and modern way of working that benefits victims and witnesses, reduces costs and cuts the time spent preparing cases for court.”
For the purposes of the study, inspectors visited six police force areas and the aligned CPS areas: Kent Police (CPS South East), Merseyside Police (CPS Merseyside and Cheshire), Greater Manchester Police (CPS North West), Northamptonshire Police (CPS East Midlands), the Metropolitan Police Service (CPS London) and the West Midlands Police (CPS West Midlands).
Inspectors also observed court cases in the Magistrates and Crown Courts, as well as interviewing representatives from the police service, the CPS, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office.