The UK's criminal justice system has failed to keep pace with technology and suffers unacceptable delays and paperwork as a result, justice minister Damian Green said in a speech today.
"Anyone who compares the way the criminal justice system works with any other modern workplace will be immediately struck by the terrible failure to take advantage of all the benefits that technology can bring," Green said at an event hosted by think tank Reform.
"The police are still wasting far too much of their time doing data entry and photocopying and not protecting the public," he said.
The exchange of case files between the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts is dogged by incompatible systems using a "myriad of formats", Green said. "The aim for the CJS must be a single case file that progresses electronically right through the system from police to court and then prison or probation without constant re-keying of information.
In a statement following Green's speech, the Ministry of Justice said it will be taking measures to "join up the entire criminal justice process so the police, CPS, courts, defence and probation share information digitally. "Building on the progress made so far with digital data sharing, all future contracts awarded to lawyers for legal aid at taxpayers expense will require them to work digitally with the rest of the criminal justice system", the ministry said.
Specifically, Green wants to extend the use of tablets and secure email – currently in place for the Crown Prosecution Service – to lawyers acting for the defence.
Green also said the live video streaming could cut the time police officers spend giving evidence in court. "Every time I talk to police officers they tell me about the amount of time they waste hanging around at court, often on rest days, waiting to give evidence," Green said.
"When cases are adjourned, as they frequently are, they are then required to come back and repeat the process again; all in all a huge waste of time, and more importantly, a huge waste of the valuable resource of the officer."
Green said he has visited a police force in Sutton Coldfield which is using "live links" to allow police officers to give evidence remotely. "In the last year over 300 police officer hours have been saved in this way, but this is just a tiny fraction of its potential," he said.
"I want to see much greater use of this technology over the next eleven months as an ambitious programme of work lays solid foundations for a truly digital courts service in England and Wales in 2013," Green said.
He also mentioned the use of open data to make policing more transparent, pointing to the online crime mapping service on the police.uk website.
"Since its launch two years ago there have been over 53 million visits to the site, which continues to receive between two- and three-hundred thousand hits a day – as people seek information about crime in their areas," he said. "The lesson of the site has been that once given access to the information people want more."