Secure Wi-Fi and digital documents set to transform UK courts

Courtrooms will be fitted with secure Wi-Fi as part of a £160m programme to improve the efficiency of the Criminal Justice System

Courtrooms will be fitted with secure Wi-Fi as part of a £160m programme to improve the efficiency of the Criminal Justice System.

Justice minister Damian Green announced the Transforming the Criminal Justice System programme, which plans to turn the justice system into a modern public service.

Following a trial in Birmingham, the programme aims to build secure Wi-Fi in the magistrates’ courts and Crown court, together with a means of presenting evidence or information digitally in the magistrates’ courtrooms and retiring rooms.

It will also provide a way to present evidence or information digitally in the Crown court, combined with collaborative working to enable legal documents relating to a case to be viewed electronically.

The programme will involve equipping 500 court houses with Wi-Fi and digital evidence screens by 2016, plus the development of a new court presentation and collaboration application.

The programme also aims to enable the police to use mobile devices, with access to real-time intelligence for building digital case files from the street and giving evidence via video link.

In May, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude cited criminal justice as an example of poor system interoperability. “Across the criminal justice system, for example, there is very little connectivity across the IT systems," he said.

The announcement of the Transforming the Criminal Justice System programme follows the Spending Round 2013 statement on 26 June, which highlighted the government's commitment to the creation of an integrated Criminal Justice System, based around a common digital platform from police station to courtroom.

The Crown Prosecution Service has supported digital case files since April 2012, but no funding was made available to defence lawyers, which has held back adoption. 

Green’s latest plans also seem to leave out funding for defence lawyers. Speaking to the Law Gazette, Green said government funding will not be available to help defence practitioners update their IT systems to enable them to engage in the new digital system.

In its Guidelines on digital working for Defence Practitioners document, published in October 2012, the Criminal Justice System stated that it will be necessary to use its secure email service, which requires users to comply with the ISO 270002 data protection standard and use FIPS 197 or FIPS 140-2 encryption.

Image: Stockbyte/Thinkstock

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