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Instead of appearing in court, defendants are to be given the opportunity to submit pleas by email to charges they face.

But the scheme isn't available to people charged with serious crimes.

According to a Press Association report, Courtroom 8 at Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court is to receive a hi-tech makeover in order to streamline court proceedings and save time and money.

The court is equipped with digital recording equipment, screen outside courtrooms to display the status of cases, microphones and computers for storing evidence and accepting emails. This will allow defendants, their lawyers or prosecutors to submit either pleas or written evidence by email instead of by writing where attendance at court is not mandatory.

If the trials at Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court are successful, similar technology will be rolled out to all 78 crown courts in England and Wales by 2005.

Dai Davis, an IT lawyer with solicitors Nabarro Nathanson, said there was no legal reason why pleas needed to be submitted by writing rather than email for summary, or less serious offences, such as traffic offences or non-payment of bills.

"There's no reason why you shouldn't be able to submit a letter of mitigation by electronic means," said Davis. "But this would only apply to the lowest tranche of cases. People will still have to appear for Crown Court cases or where decisions on bail for more serious offences are made." ®

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