The role of technology in joining up justice services

29 February 2016

The other week I had the pleasure of attending my first Reform roundtable on the subject of ‘The role of technology in joining up justice services’.

It was great to see representation from across the justice sector with Home Office, Police, Magistrates Association, the Ministry of Justice and the National Offender Management Service being just some of the organisations in attendance, which ensured an informed and lively debate

My preparation for this roundtable was informed by Natalie Ceeney’s observations about how technology should not just be about productivity and cost reductions (important as these are), but about delivering ‘better justice’ for our communities, our businesses and citizens.

And this means much more than the bits and bytes technology companies usually love talking about. It’s about putting the user at the heart of the system, whether plaintiff or defendant, witness or victim, or those found guilty and sentenced according to the law. True justice is about rehabilitation as well as restitution.

To accomplish this, the focus must be on bringing together informed experts with the right information to make better and faster decisions. To join up services it is critical that vital information can be taken out of agency silos and made securely available to all interested parties in the criminal justice system. This will also enable the right decisions to be made, more of the time.

It’s also about reducing the pressure on courts by finding new means of delivering verdicts, and reducing pressure on prisons by finding new sentences that do not rely simply on incarceration, with little focus on rehabilitation.

Critically to achieve all this, there needs to be a commitment to move away from the historic burden of paper-based manual processes, using not point solutions but end-to-end workflow management techniques.

And there is no doubt that technology can, and will, enable all of the above, given the focus and sheer willpower that clearly exists to make it happen.

My sense, during the excellent discussion, was that the great work being done locally by individual agencies could be enhanced even further by looking at where other sectors and indeed regions have seen successful technology deployments. The US model for real-time collaboration across law enforcement and video evidence in courts; in the UK, the health model that has opened up the benefits of data-sharing across agencies like never before. All these are now proven to deliver benefits. There was also a belief in the room that the UK justice system should not just follow suit but should aspire to become the global exemplar for excellence in delivering better justice.

In my summary I noted three key themes that emerged during the discussions:

Firstly, common data standards across the justice continuum are vital in opening up secure data sharing and effective collaboration.

Secondly, legacy systems, many several decades old, have to be replaced by agile and scalable technologies that will evolve effortlessly in the decades to come.

Lastly, the ‘Cloud’ is now viewed as a viable, secure option to deliver this new breed of justice services.

But making this happen requires one further element. In an environment of increasing pressure and expectation, to quote Paul Whittaker’s closing comments directly, “we need innovation to become part of business as usual”.

Jason Hall, Vice President, Central Government and Police, BT Group

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