Queen’s Bench Division guvnor calls on colleagues to give up on paper — especially in complex fraud trials
One of the country’s most senior judges has ticked off his colleagues for being “unwilling” to embrace the technological advances required to boost courtroom efficiency.
In a thinly veiled reprimand of crusty Luddite traditionalists, Sir Brian Leveson, the President of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court in England and Wales, yesterday bemoaned a judicial addiction to paper.
Some of my colleagues will be unhappy, perhaps unwilling, to move away from familiar paper-based case files,” Sir Brian told delegates at a London technology conference yesterday.
How can we expect them to handle a paper-heavy fraud trial on line if they do not engage with IT? That problem will have to be addressed as a matter of urgency; care will have to be taken with allocation of work and training will be critical.
But the man that gave the country the phone hacking enquiry, also damned poor government oversight of previous attempts to bring the courts into the information fast lane:
History is littered with examples of failed IT projects, often with the IT company running off to the bank with huge amounts of public money in its back pocket, irrespective of the fact that the system of which they spoke so highly has not worked. We must not let this fail in that or any other way.
Speaking yesterday at the Modernising Justice 2015 — sponsored by outsourcing giant Capita, which has itself been criticised for incurring IT overspends on the public purse — Sir Brian said that while the courts “may have embraced some elements of what the new technologies have to offer … because of a lack of sufficient investment we have remained rooted in many of the working practices that would be wholly recognisable to judges and court staff from four decades ago; perhaps, albeit with parchment and quill, 300 years ago.” He went on:
If you walk round our court estate, it is submerged under the weight of files — acres of rooms are dedicated to them. Every case is represented by a folder, often sizeable with documents contained in ever increasing numbers of lever arch files.
Sir Brian also backed moves to streamline the payment of criminal sentence fines by bringing technology to bear. He said the process had already started of enabling defendants in certain cases to plead guilty online, but that more needed to be done.
In some cases,” he said, “for instance non-imprisonable lower end crime — such as less serious driving cases that only ever end up with a fine — it should be possible to use recognised sentencing guidelines to identify a prospective sentence which the person who has just pleaded guilty can accept if he or she chooses to do so, having entered their outgoings and income — which may well be cross checked — with the right to a hearing being reserved for those who ask for it, perhaps because they have particular mitigation.
The President of the Queen’s Bench Division went on to say:
Then, as in the parking cases now, defendants will be able to enter their credit card details and it will all be over, in one visit, as quickly as paying the parking fine, the road fund licence or all the other transactions that we are now used to performing on line. A very large bulk of standard, low-level work which is presently very expensive to process may be resolved without a formal court appearance or hearing.