20 May 2021

Delivering swifter justice with digital technologies

Guest blog: Kate Brightwell, Gov relations manager, Adobe as part of our #DigitalJustice2021 week

Technology is changing everything

Technology is transforming every industry today. In law enforcement and justice, new technologies offer many opportunities to improve the ways to interact and protect the public, - whether through police, through courts, through probation, or otherwise. That might be by speeding up the collection and processing of necessary information or giving frontline officers body-worn mobile technology to help them carry out their work safely.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only sped up the need for the adoption of these new technologies to serve the public. As society has moved to social distancing and remote or hybrid work, the justice system need to continue to adapt. This will be crucial as the justice system continues to focus on the citizens , seeking to provide not only the best outcome, but also the best experience.

Manual processes can slow down delivery

Process is crucial to the delivery of justice, but too often we hear about the negative impacts of manual processes, both for users of the justice system and for those delivering it. These manual processes can slow down the swift delivery of justice as paper forms are completed, filed and recompleted, or as frontline officers make journeys to carry out tasks that could be completed remotely. The implementation of digital technology and processes can help to solve this.

Citizens expect to interact with the justice system in a way that works for them. That means being able to do so remotely where possible. It means doing it at a time that works for them, on devices they use day-to-day. Citizens don’t fill in paper forms and scan them back to the organisations they interact with regularly – they do so via apps and their digital devices, with forms prefilled, changing dynamically based on choices and returned digitally at the click of a button. Digital technologies can allow the justice system to offer this same experience to citizens, while giving frontline officers time back. Too often manual, paper processes are blockers to efficient services.

Digital technology and processes speed up delivery

At Adobe, we’ve seen the potential of digital transformation in justice first-hand. Over the past 3 years, we’ve worked with the Police Digital Service to support forces across the country to use digital technologies as they deliver for the communities they serve.

Officers typically take statements from witnesses and victims in person. Due to resourcing pressures this can often take several days. This slows down the overall progress of each case, and also means that witnesses’ memories of key details may fade. This process can often take up to hours of travel & interview time, before manually filing a statement back at the police station.  

Adobe worked with Forces to pilot the use of Sign’s e-signatures, starting with witness and victim statements.  Once the witness or victim approves the statement verbally, an email with a link to sign a legally binding approval of the statement via Adobe Sign is sent. The completed document is automatically routed back to the Force and stored either in their own cloud or locally. And if there is any risk of coercion, or of another person signing the statement, a PIN code or password is sent within the Adobe Sign workflow, allowing Forces to ensure strict document security measures are met through two-factor authentication.

One Force is processing up to 700 statements per month and all are now being completed using  Adobe Sign. With three hours of a police officer’s time saved per case compared with the old procedure, a single Force estimates it saves over 6,000 hours per quarter (25,000 hours per annum), which is the equivalent of 29 shifts of an officer’s time per quarter. This allows more officers to be back on beats, rather than filing paper forms. The digital workflows have virtually eliminated statement-related administration as well as legacy paper and postage costs. The solution also freed up workspace previously occupied by rows of storage cabinets. The Force has seen a return on its investment of more than 1,500%.

As a result of the success of using e-signatures for victim and witness statements, the Force has gone on to use Sign for all of their signature and approval needs. This covers everything from firearms licenses to overtime applications, and has been another huge driver of efficiency for the Force.

Digital can transform justice

We believe that this is the tip of the iceberg for what digital technologies and transformation can do for the justice system.

Much of the justice system relies on legacy, often manual, paper processes. Forms must be completed by hand, filed by people and often with no automatic process for appropriate sharing between organisations. This slows down work, and ultimately results, in key and sensitive areas such as protecting victims of domestic abuse.

Forms could be completed quickly and digitally, with their storage, filing and sharing with other necessary organisations automated. Errors, rekeying and repetition could be all but eliminated. All of this would give time back to the people running our justice system, and would allow for greater support to the people relying on it.

And much of this could be done remotely. Signatures and approvals can be granted in the office, but also from the bus or the train on the way to work. This flexibility allows the whole justice system to move faster and more efficiently. People can be brought in for appointments more quickly, they can be out more quickly and, most importantly, they can get to the outcomes they need more quickly.

Digital technologies and processes allow us to reimagine the ways in which our justice system operates, both for employees and for citizens.