Delivering justice in a digital age

Date of publication
13 April 2016
Lead inspectorate
HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate
Participating inspectorate
HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services
Criminal Justice System
Inspection category
CJJI thematic report
Bringing Offenders to Justice
Criminal Justice Joint Inspection

Historically, files were transferred between the police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the courts and the defence on paper. This resulted in delays and substantial storage costs. Information was regularly duplicated, and there was a risk of information being lost or disclosed to the wrong people.

Digitisation of the processes is essential if the criminal justice system (CJS) is to be effective in today’s environment. The CPS and the other CJS agencies embarked on this process a few years ago. Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) have jointly inspected progress towards digitisation of processes in and between the police, CPS, the courts and the defence. Inspectors visited six police forces and the aligned CPS Areas between July and September 2015. They also carried out court observations in magistrates’ and Crown Courts, and interviewed representatives of the police, CPS, HM Courts and Tribunal Service, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office.

Inspectors found that the criminal justice agencies are clearly committed to making improvements using digitisation. Substantial incremental progress has been made, for example:

• An online charging facility which allows the police and CPS to prioritise and even out workloads
• Almost all magistrates’ courts casework is transferred digitally between the police and the CPS
• CPS Areas can work together to save costs, with some work being done outside the Area to which the case relates
• Prosecutors present magistrates’ court cases from laptops and update their case records in real time using a ‘prosecutor app’
• Where Wi-Fi exists in court, information can be accessed without needing to adjourn or put back cases

There remains significant progress to be made however. For example:

• Agencies still rely on the manual input of some paper documents. Victim and witness statements are generally handwritten by the police then scanned in, which often makes the documents hard to read
• Agencies’ computer systems still do not directly ‘talk’ to each other
• There is no single, national police IT system so information is transferred to the CPS in different ways, and each police force visited during the inspection has bought a different body worn video camera solution with little consideration of linking such projects together and maximising value for money
• There is no reliable way of sharing CCTV, interview and 999 recordings, photos and body worn video footage digitally, so discs still have to be sent from the police to the CPS, leading to an increased risk of the misplacing of these discs
• Although the CPS can send information to the defence digitally, many defence representatives do not use the necessary secure email system so the CPS has to print off a paper copy and courier it to the court
• The HMCTS Court Store system was slowing down the court dramatically in cases involving multiple defendants, as the updating of more than one defendant’s record at the same time wasn’t possible, even if the same update applies to more than one defendant
Progress has clearly been made, but the vision in the CJS Digital Business Model of a digital end-to-end CJS is still some way from becoming a reality.

Delivering justice in a digital age report (PDF, 271 kB)