Anyone going into any courtroom three years ago would have seen prosecutors with a stack of files on the bench, and similarly the shelves in our offices were piled high with paper case files.
This is changing – every day thousands of cases are being prepared and presented digitally by prosecutors in courts across England and Wales. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has been at the forefront of driving this move to digital working in the Criminal Justice System (CJS), made possible by the dedication of people across our organisation.
The image of prosecutors standing in court with a paper file is fading.
Most police forces are now transferring over 90% of all case files electronically to the CPS. This case information is reviewed digitally and our lawyers can then present cases in court directly from their tablet devices – 75% of cases across the country are presented in this way, and the number is growing. Working on a digital file is like accessing and reading a set of case papers – prosecutors can annotate the electronic documents as well as underline, highlight them and make cross references and comments as they would on the paper file.
I no longer prosecute as part of my day job but since becoming director of the CPS digital programme I have been regularly prosecuting cases from my tablet in magistrates’ and Crown Court. This allows me to keep my hand in digital advocacy and helps to build a really good picture of the digital landscape across the country so that I can understand the challenges and opportunities faced by front-line staff on a daily basis.
Changing to new ways of working is not easy. We have been working hard to make our business processes more efficient by enhancing existing kit, equipping staff with the right tools for the job, and introducing standard practices for key systems and processes.
We are also testing and evaluating key products with staff and CJS partners where appropriate, so we can identify the best ways of doing things before rolling them out.
The way in which the CJS works will continue to change. Instead of delivering and receiving information as we do now, all criminal justice practitioners will access shared case information from a common system. CPS prosecutors will use web connectivity and in-court technology to retrieve information in real-time and present evidence or show CCTV on court screens from their mobile devices. Ultimately digital working means less movement of paper and people around the system, and a simpler, more efficient and more effective CJS which provides a quality service to victims, witnesses and the wider public.
This post originally featured on the Building Skills blog