Britain Wants Courts Digitized By 2016

Government commits £160 million to replacing paperwork bottlenecks in British courtrooms with Wi-Fi, screens and video.
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The government says it is so fed up with trials in Britain's courtrooms being held up by paperwork that it wants the system completely digitized by 2016.

"Every year the courts and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) use roughly 160 million sheets of paper," said Justice Minister Damian Green in a statement. Stacked up, he said, is literally mountains of paper, equaling 15 of Wales' 3,560-foot Mount Snowdon.

Green's plan, Transforming the Criminal Justice System, will replace the outdated paper-based system and turn the U.K.'s criminal justice system into a modern digital public service, he said. The goal: to provide a "swift, determined response to crime" and treat "victims and witnesses with the care and consideration they deserve."

[ The saga of Google's accidental collection of personal Wi-Fi info continues. Read Britain Orders Google To Delete Street View Data. ]

On Friday, the government committed £160 million ($244 million) to "digital courtrooms" and improved IT systems across the police, prosecution and court services so that information can be shared electronically, securely and efficiently. Part of the money will go toward installing wireless networks in 500 courts to help prevent any more adjournments caused by missing information. Prosecution, defense, judiciary and court staff should instead be able to access all necessary court documents online.

Green also wants to see greater use of so-called digital evidence screens, which lets the defense and prosecution lawyers present evidence on a screen instead of relying on paper copies which can become lost or misplaced. The screens also would be used to show security camera and other video footage.

The Ministry also will commission new court presentation and collaboration systems to allow prosecution, defense, and judiciary to navigate complex legal court cases "with ease." The plan also will fund more mobile technology for British Bobbies to speed up the transfer of data.

A clue as to what the government has in mind is said to be Birmingham Magistrates' Court, claimed to be the first paperless courtroom in the country. At that facility, run this way since March, great reliance is placed on in-court Wi-Fi, screens and support for witnesses to appear remotely via video.

Around 80 cases, ranging from shoplifting to violent offenses, are said to have been processed successfully this way, with Chelmsford Magistrates' Court said to be next in line for the technology.

"Today's investment will move us much closer towards the goal of eliminating paperwork throughout the life of a criminal case -- and all of the costs and waste that come with it," claimed the chief executive of the CPS, Peter Lewis.