Justice in the digital era

18 February 2016

We have one of the world’s most admired judicial systems, but it is a 19th century model with 20th century processes struggling to deliver effective 21st century justice.

I take my role as a Police and Crime Commissioner very seriously, and in particular, the duty to support victims and witnesses. I also have a responsibility to ensure the Chief Constable delivers an effective and efficient police service, so I want to see officers out policing Sussex and not wasting up to five hours waiting for court slots and transporting defendants back and forth for a five minute hearing.

As Chair of the Sussex Criminal Justice Board I have a unique opportunity to build momentum towards a common goal to create a smoother process that delivers an improved experience and swifter justice.

The Video Enabled Justice project aims to scale up the use of technology to improve the experience of victims and witnesses and save time for police officers, courts, prison staff and other partners.

The key word in this ground-breaking project is enabled. The technology is not a magic bullet, it is the mechanism that invites the established court scheduling processes to adapt and evolve quickly.

Video evidence is not new but the ambition to ‘industrialise’ its use is. The model that we are working on does need genuine commitment and collaboration to achieve the critical mass that actually delivers process improvements and a better experience for everybody involved.

Overcoming the inherent inertia in such an established system has several challenges: each independent component of the justice system needs to see a clear business case for change that is both compelling and deliverable.

Previous negative experiences of small scale VEJ projects may well have clouded people’s views, and there will also be some who instinctively prefer the solemnity of traditional processes, which is why somebody with a fresh perspective had to take a lead and challenge the status quo.

After months of presentation, discussion and negotiation I was able to acknowledge the established interests of all the players and present a coherent argument that could be summarised as “why wouldn’t we want to do this?”

The interests of victims and witnesses must come first. Victims often suffer anxiety about their court appearances and too many have to wait too long. Witnesses often do not appear because of the personal impact caused by lengthy court processes and delays.

If businesses and other parts of the public sector can operate digitally by default, then the criminal justice system needs to catch up. We owe it to the people who have the courage to report crimes and those who will testify on their behalf to make this a more comfortable process capitalising on technology that is already available.

Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner

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