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Tagged In:  Ministry of Justice

A billion-pound overhaul of the court system in England and Wales is set to completely change the way victims give evidence in criminal cases, with many minor offences also to be moved to an online system.

Under the new rules, victims and witnesses will be given the option of being cross-examined in advance, rather than appearing before a jury in person. Their pre-recorded testimonial will then be played during the trial in video form.

This new system will help to reduce the anxiety that many people experience when faced with having to appear in court; indeed, nearly a third of cases that collapsed in 2014-15 did so as a result of victim and witness issues. What’s more, witnesses during pilot programmes in Kingston-upon-Thames, Leeds and Liverpool said they were able to remember events more clearly without the stress of being cross-examined in person.

New online system for minor offences

Judicial processes will also to be expedited through the creation of new online ways of handling minor offences. For example, those pleading guilty to dodging transport fares will be able to do so electronically, with fines paid through the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) website.

Already, 25,000 appeals about driving and parking offences are handled online each year, with complainants able to upload evidence to support their case. Thanks to its success, the processes used have been adopted in a pilot scheme to speed up benefit disputes.

Modernisation of courts

An investment of £700m has been made by the MoJ for this modernisation of the courts and tribunal system, while £270m has been ploughed into fully digitising courtrooms by 2020. Already, millions of pages of criminal evidence have been uploaded, with 130 crown courts benefitting from video-link technology. Equipment to enable courts to view data such as CCTV has also been introduced.

Justice secretary Elizabeth Truss said: “We want a justice system that works for everyone. That means creating a system that is just, efficient and simple. We have the tools and the technology to cut unnecessary paperwork, to deliver swifter justice and to make the experience more straightforward.

“Most importantly, these reforms will allow us to better protect victims and witnesses who can find the experience of reliving a traumatic event in court incredibly stressful.”

The digitisation of the court system has been outlined in an MoJ paper entitled Transforming our Justice System; this document also highlights the need to phase out complicated legal jargon so judicial processes will be made even more simple.

With the implementation of these plans, their creators hope that the court system in England and Wales will be firmly overhauled, to be declared truly fit for the 21st century.

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