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Covid-19 creates opportunity to digitally transform justice system, says TechUK

The pandemic has accelerated the use of digital in the UK justice system but challenges remain, leaving it ripe for reform with data at its heart, says industry body

Technology should play a key role in the reform of the UK justice system, according to a report by industry body TechUK.

The report looks at how the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digital adoption across the justice system, and calls for this to continue in the long term.

“We know the government’s ambition is to create a justice system which puts the user at the centre, which protects the public and swiftly dispenses justice,” said the report. 

“To do this, the ambition must centre around delivering digital justice and high-quality rehabilitation programmes. It is important to look at the journey of the user as they move through the criminal justice system – prevention, rehabilitation and breaking the reoffending cycle we see all too frequently.” 

The courts system, for instance, is already in the midst of a huge digital overhaul, aiming to introduce online services, digital case files and use video technology in court hearings through a common platform, allowing the sharing of information between HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), the Crown Prosecution Service and the police. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, work had to be accelerated and virtual courts and remote hearings, as well as digital case management, were quickly introduced

However, while the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for digital transformation of the justice system overall, the challenge now, said the report, is to “realise the benefit of a more digitised justice system and maintain this once we fully emerge from lockdown”.

It added: “It is important now for the tech industry to work closely with partners to make fundamental changes in areas where the pandemic has exposed a need. This could include the challenges we see around interoperability, legacy infrastructure, connectivity or simply moving procedures from paper to digital.

“Now is an opportunity to learn. To learn from those areas that have successfully adopted digital technologies, where we have seen an acceleration in digital working, and look ahead. Look ahead and explore how digitising justice services can start filling those gaps as we aim to move towards an effective and efficient digitised justice system.”

Read more about technology and the justice system

  • The Common Platform digital system aims to make it easier to share and manage case information across the criminal 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 TechUK report said data is key, with access to the right data, better access to sharing of data, and improved data quality and standards all helping to deliver justice more efficiently.

“The justice system must reform, and data must be at the heart of it,” it said. “Better access to data for courts, prisons and probation services is crucial as we start looking ahead at the road to recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. It is clear that we have seen digital adoption accelerated across the criminal justice system, but we still have a long way to go.

“With the impact of Covid-19, shifting demands, fewer resources and constrained finances, change must happen from better data-sharing to support staff and understanding the user journey to standardising the use of new technologies. Investment and adoption of new technologies will improve efficiencies and will result in better joined-up services across the criminal justice system.”

In January 2021, TechUK launched a digital justice working group, which works as a platform to encourage collaboration between industry and government bodies such as the Ministry of Justice, HMCTS, HM Prison and Probation Services and academia.

The group is chaired by Natalie Farr, public safety manager, UK public sector at Google. Commenting on the report, Farr said the justice sector is facing “unprecedented challenges, which have only been accelerated as a result of Covid-19”.

She added: “The impact has been felt throughout the entire criminal justice system. The journey through the system for the accused, for the victims, witnesses and solicitors alike, is ever more challenging.”

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