19 May 2021

The digital transformation sweeping the UK Courts system

Guest blog: Ian Bailey, Business Sales Manager for Justice, Virgin Media Business as part of our #DigitalJustice2021 week

The UK legal system has faced profound challenges throughout the pandemic.  

Court delays have had a real human impact, forcing victims to wait longer for cases to be heard. And a significant backlog of 54,000 unheard cases has since built up in England and Wales.  

But there have been notable efforts to invest in digital transformation to hold trials safely and keep key processes moving. This is something that the four Criminal Justice Chief Inspectors recently described as “a major achievement.” 

How exactly has digital transformation integrated with existing legal systems to allow proceedings to continue seamlessly? And what does this tell us about the importance of digital change as we look to rebound? 

How technology has revolutionised the modern-day Courts system 

In years past, every party involved in a court case would have to travel to attend in person.  

Legal teams would meet to discuss a case well ahead of time, and then print out lengthy documents to be shared around the courtroom on the day of a case. 

Now, thanks to reliable connectivity, cloud systems and screen sharing capabilities, the entire process can take place remotely.  

It’s a process that was ongoing in the justice system well before the pandemic hit. 

Take the Supreme Court for example, which has spent the past four years on a digital transformation journey. In the past, the court had been confined to a brick-and-mortar approach to justice – which meant plenty of paperwork and travel to and from the court. 

The Supreme Court’s Chief Technology Officer, Chinonso Orekie, told us how he and his team wanted to leave the geographical restrictions and arduous paper admin behind in favour of a more collaborative approach. 

The team needed a new system to support flexible working practices and to be able to hear court cases where at least one party would be joining remotely at all times.  

Chinoso approached SMEs and larger private sector providers, who were able to help his team to seamlessly integrate a new Skype for Business cloud solution.  

The solution is now in place and enables true collaboration for Chinonso and his team – allowing them to work from wherever they are. Thanks to their secure network, the team can also share confidential documents with confidence. 

Over the last year, we’ve seen the digital revolution in the UK courts accelerate its pace in response to the pandemic. And it’s meant that courts have still been able to function, albeit at a reduced level. 

The rapid adoption of digital change even allowed certain civil jurisdictions to operate at close to normal, pre-pandemic levels. For example, the High Court and the business and property courts were able to carry out almost 80% of their ordinary business through remote hearings. 

At the Old Bailey, a high-profile human-trafficking trial took place in two courtrooms which were then connected to each other by a live video link. This technology enabled the Justice system to carry out a trial that involved a jury - something that, due to Public Health England guidelines, proved extremely difficult during the pandemic.  

Without the impressive work of those working within the UK legal system to embrace digital technology, the impact of the pandemic on the course of justice may have been far worse. 

A faster, fairer, and more efficient justice system for the UK 

The Supreme Court is just one example of the exciting digital innovation that is taking place across the UK Court system. Now, the backlog of cases in UK courts must be cleared – and digital technology is the catalyst that will rapidly accelerate this process. 

Already, almost 3,000 virtual courts are taking place a month. 

As more Justices and staff embrace digital change – swapping paperwork for electronic files, emails for instant messaging, and mobile calls for telephony solutions – we won’t only see savings and improved processes. We will also see these institutions providing faster and fairer verdicts to the people who depend on them. 

However, leaders within the UK justice system must now be decisive. They must decide to invest in collaboration – not only between departments, but with the private sector to provide the best possible legal service to the people who depend on it. 

The future is bright for digital courts – the success of the digital initiatives we’ve seen over the past year has cemented their place as a long-term addition. One that will help speed up the course of justice and allow better collaboration between teams, ensuring a timely and fair result for those who depend on them. 

To see how Virgin Media Business can support the UK’s justice system in its digital transformation goals, visit our dedicated information page here. 

About Ian

"My department helps Local Authorities, Health and Education customers to fulfil their aspirations through the provision of IT services, consultancy and innovation. With a determined focus on outcomes, we ensure every citizen, patient and student is at the heart of what we do. 

I currently lead a team which covers the North East, Yorkshire, Humber and East Midlands. I have a proven track record in sales, from front line sales to sales leadership, complemented by 20 years of experience."