Published on 24 September 2015
- Our Work
- The Reformer Blog
2 October 2015
The traditional paper notebook is the iconic front end of all evidence processed by the criminal justice system (CJS). Its continued use, together with the mountains of paperwork seen in courtrooms up and down the country, is also symbolic of the extent to which the digital revolution has yet to fully make its mark on our CJS.
There are many reasons why the CJS falls behind other departments of government. To users of the CJS, offenders, victims and witnesses, they see a single, end-to-end system. Unfortunately the reality is more nuanced, with many separate agencies, or ‘Criminal Justice Participants’, forming just a small part of a complex national and local CJS landscape. Each agency in the chain, be that the MoJ or HM Courts and Tribunals, acts on its own objectives, has unique processes and stores its data differently. Institutional tensions and budget protectionism rail against building a truly end to end system.
Within this complex framework technology can only ever deliver so much – essentially improving existing processes by making information input more accurate and reducing duplication. Our own Pronto e-notebook and applications, used by more than a quarter of police forces, does just this. In Dyfed Powys, where Pronto is being rolled-out to deliver paperless policing, police officers are moving a range of processes including Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment (DASH) forms, collision reports and other traffic processes fully online. The early results are promising, with officers less reliant on a control room as the central hub of information and therefore able to spend longer out in communities.
The opportunity for efficiencies are particularly stark in handling minor offences such as traffic infringements. Currently, around 60 per cent of traffic penalty notices completed using traditional pen and paper forms contain mistakes or omissions in data entry, adding considerable delay to the system as information is reviewed and re-checked. The average paper ticket is processed in around seven days and delivered to the motorist by post. In contrast, specialised policing applications like Pronto allow police officers to record information digitally by the roadside, making it possible to issue and print penalty notices immediately without errors.
Greater digitalisation doesn’t just save processing times. Better quality evidence, captured on electronic, error free forms, perhaps with photos embedded into evidence processes, or via body-worn cameras greatly increases the likelihood of obtaining a conviction. Evidence from Police Scotland suggests that up to 90 per cent of suspects confronted by video evidence plead guilty early, which in turn means that fewer victims undergo the distress of a trial.
The Government has, for its part, recognised the potential and is taking steps in support of technology take-up. It is particularly encouraging that the Government Digital Service (GDS) is taking an interest in the CJS and is adding momentum to the digital cause. Yet despite their good work, including the roll-out of broadband to courtrooms and the digital case-file initiative, much work remains to ensure all of the opportunities presented by technological change can be realised.
Richard Bobbett, Chief Executive Officer, Airwave
This article was written for the Reform Annual Journal to accompany the Labour Party Conference event “Investing in police, blue light and criminal justice technology”.