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HMCTS deploys video platform for remote hearings during Covid-19

Magistrates’ and crown courts will use platform to conduct remote criminal hearings during the coronavirus pandemic

HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is rolling out a video platform to be used for criminal hearings in courts across England and Wales.

The video platform will be available for both magistrates’ and crown courts, with more than 100 courts being able to use the technology in the first phase of the roll-out.

The coronavirus outbreak has significantly affected court operations across the country, and HMCTS hopes that deploying the Kinly Cloud Video Platform will “help keep the justice system moving”.

Because of the pandemic, emergency legislation has been passed, as part of the Coronavirus Act 2020, to allow the use of video technology in criminal hearings, but it will not be used for jury trials. Defendants will also not be able to attend hearings from their own home, and sentencing will not take place unless the defendant is either in custody or physically present in the courtroom.

The government hopes this will give judges and magistrates “more options for avoiding adjournments and keeping business moving through the courts to help reduce delays in the administration of justice and alleviate the impact on families, victims, witnesses and defendants”.

Courts minister Chris Phillips said: “It is essential that justice continues to be served in these difficult times and this new platform will help equip courts across England and Wales with secure and robust video technology to enable them to carry out more of their vital work.

“I am extremely impressed at the way all those within the justice system have adapted so well to the unprecedented challenges we face.

“We have already seen a huge rise in the number of cases being heard remotely, and this innovation will ensure the wheels of justice continue to turn.”

During the first phase of the roll-out, the video platform is being installed at 60 magistrates’ courts and 48 crown courts open to the public, as well as civil and family courts.

The system connects to the existing justice video network, linking police stations and prisons to courts, and can be accessed by any device with internet, camera and a microphone, such as laptops, tablets or smartphones.

So far, 412 remand hearings have been held using the video platform.

Read more about IT in the justice system

  • A Commons Select Committee report has voiced a number of concerns about the ongoing transformation efforts led by the Ministry of Justice and called for actions such as maintenance of non-digital services.
  • Significant IT issues at HM Courts and Tribunal Service have caused chaos across the UK’s courts as users have been unable to connect to the network and use IT systems that require access to it. 
  • The Courts and Tribunals Judiciary will increase the use of technology in court proceedings as emergency legislation is being drafted to expand powers to allow criminal courts to hold remote hearings during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Guy Kearl QC, senior circuit judge at Leeds Crown Court, which is already using the platform, said that in these uncertain times, “confirmation that the rule of law endures and justice will be served is a source of profound reassurance to us all”.

He added: “This secure videoconferencing technology is versatile and provides the functions essential to deliver a range of criminal hearings. I am delighted to be involved in its successful introduction.”

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, courts are aiming to maintain services across the country through the use of video technology. According to government figures on 24 April 2020, about 90% of cases in England and Wales have used audio and video technology.

During April, video technology accounted for just over one-third of the remote technology used, while audio technology has been more prevalent, accounting for just under two-thirds.

The courts system is amidst a huge digital overhaul. A £1bn programme to overhaul the courts through the use of technology aims to introduce online services, digital case files and to use video technology in court hearings through a common platform, allowing the sharing of information between HMCTS, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police.

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