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London cops extend virtual justice trial

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A pilot of virtual courts which use video conferencing technology to put suspects on trial without leaving the police stations is being extended.

Fifteen London police stations will now be linked to Camberwell Green Magistrates Court by secure video communication and a secure document transfer system. The original trial ran for 12 weeks in 2007 also using Camberwell Magistrates' Court.

This will now be extended to another 14 police stations in London. There will be a further trial next year to see how the project works in a less urban setting, in North Kent in 2009.

The technology allows the Crown Prosecution Service to charge suspects hours after they've been arrested. They can then be linked to the court to hear an almost instant verdict. Magistrates in some cases could even pass sentence on the same day. Defense solicitors could sit either at the court or in the video conference room at the police station. If magistrates feel the trial is unsuitable for virtual court they can call for a proper hearing.

It is hoped the scheme will save money by: reducing the number of trials abandoned because the defendant does not turn up or paperwork is missing, save police time and save cash on costs of shipping prisoners around the country.

Ministry of Justice statement is here.

An MoJ spokesman was unable to provide technical information on how the project will work or explain how cases would be selected - maybe they could fastrack all those fraud cases resulting from investigating MPs' expenses. The MoJ hopes some 15,000 cases will be heard virtually during the year long pilot. ®

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