Joint inspectorate report finds progress still needs to be made in digitisation of the criminal justice process

A joint report by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary published today has found that good progress has been made in the move towards a fully digital system but that more needs to be done and the impetus for change maintained.

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Delivering justice in a digital age

The digitisation of the criminal justice system is necessary for the modernisation of the 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– that is 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 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 CPS to prioritise workloads, and a prosecutor app which enables cases to be updated online from the court in real-time.

However, issues that were highlighted as still needing resolving include the use of multiple IT systems by the police, 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 presents a significant security risk. Further, agencies are still having to input some paper documents manually, creating a duplication of effort.

HMCPSI Chief Inspector Kevin McGinty said:

“The digitisation of casework is fundamentally important if we are to ensure that the criminal justice remains effective and efficient. It allows for the 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.

“Our report shows that a number of improvements and steps have been made to modernise the criminal justice system, but that there remains a lot of work to be done to make the system fully digital. It is essential that the criminal justice agencies find a way for their computer systems to talk to each other effectively, thereby reducing delays and speeding the process to the benefit of victims and all court users.

“We will continue to monitor the development of digitisation.”

HM Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams said:

“It’s important that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service work together, to create an efficient criminal justice system that provides the best outcomes for 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 Crown Prosecution Service.

“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 at court. There are also benefits for the police forces themselves. In one force, the Witness Care Team were 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.

“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’s role in the criminal justice system.”

Inspectors visited six police force areas and the aligned CPS areas – Kent (CPS South East), Merseyside Police (CPS Merseyside and Cheshire), Greater Manchester (CPS North West), Northamptonshire (CPS East Midlands); the Metropolitan Police Service (CPS London) and the West Midlands (CPS West Midlands). Inspectors also observed court cases in the magistrates and Crown Courts, as well as interviewing representatives from the police, CPS, HM Courts and Tribunal Service, Ministry of Justice and the Home Office.

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Delivering justice in a digital age