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We'll punish crims faster... with lots of shiny new tech - minister

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Effective use of technology will be at the heart of the criminal justice system, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has promised.

In a white paper, Swift and Sure Justice: the Government's plans for reform of the Criminal Justice System, the government says exploiting its investments in technology will help improve service delivery, moving away from a slow, paper-based system.

"Progress has been made, with most police forces now preparing non-custody cases using a digital case file. Crown Prosecution Service prosecutors are beginning to use tablet devices to prosecute cases in open court; and all magistrates' courts are able to receive digital case files from the Crown Prosecution Service," the white paper said. "The next stage of reform is to expand, embed and sustain the progress we have made throughout the criminal justice system so that digital case files are used routinely in criminal justice proceedings."

The MoJ admits that there has been insufficient return on the significant sums of money invested in IT projects for the criminal justice system over the last decade.

"Libra, and C-Nomis suffered serious delays, ran over budget and did not deliver the functionality promised. Put simply, systems did not integrate well across the agencies, reinforcing 'silo' methods of working and creating waste."

The document blames poor investment decisions for this waste of resources.

On shared services, it says there are few examples of criminal justice agencies sharing services, but the agencies' systems are not well integrated. Manual interventions are required allow the sharing of information.

Going forwards, an extension of the use of prison-to-court video links to all crown courts and more prisons are among the MoJ's key proposals for improvement.

Nick Herbert, the police and criminal justice minister, said: "During last year's riots, we saw cases that normally take weeks and months being dealt with in just hours and days. We want this to become the norm, not the exception.

"That is why we want a more flexible criminal justice system, including extending opening hours for courts, maximising the use of technology through virtual courts and prison-to-court video links."

According to the document, the benefits of video links are enabling proceedings to take place more quickly, avoiding the need for some people to travel to court, reducing the cost of transporting prisoners, and providing convenience and security for victims and witnesses.

It points out that previous video links in the criminal justice system have been developed independently and are not well integrated. Under a current £10m programme of investment, due for completion at the end of the year, ageing video technology infrastructure will be upgraded, video technology will be rolled out to a further 47 crown courts and a unified infrastructure to allow full interoperability will be created.

The shift from a paper-based system to one based on digital case files will be "critical" to delivering swift justice, the paper says. All Crown Prosecution Service prosecutors have tablet devices enabling them to present "paperless" cases in court. By next April all 43 police forces will be preparing digital case files, and digital working will be extended into all magistrates' courts and the crown court, according to the MoJ.

The forthcoming Police Information and Communications Technology company will be expected to exploit the potential of IT in the criminal justice system and the MoJ says it will be exploring how it can use social media to improve the transparency of, and public engagement with, the criminal justice system.

Chief constable Jim Barker-McCardle, the Association of Chief Police Officer's lead for criminal justice, said: "The current and ambitious efficiency programme has made very good progress, but we recognise there is more to do to embed new processes and continue to pursue greater efficiency especially in a modern digital age. That has to be in the best interests of victims, prosecution and defence witnesses and all parties within the wider criminal justice system."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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