The transformative potential of digital in the justice system
It has long been recognised that digitisation offers a transformative opportunity. In particular, for people engaging with the justice system it has the potential to deliver a personalised experience that takes into account individual circumstances and needs.
One area where we are beginning to see benefits is in the use of automated communications. Not everyone will need or want notification of every development in his, her or their case. But some will. Digitisation enables service users to be as proactive as they wish.
Online citizen portals could, and should, tailor communications depending on:
Inherent vulnerability – ensuring a victim of domestic abuse, for example, has control over how and when they are messaged by their caseworker
The crime they have experienced – some citizens will be satisfied with a one-off text containing a crime reference number for insurance purposes, for example, when a low-level theft has taken place
Of course, unlocking the benefits of digital brings challenges too. There is often a continued, and arguably unavoidable, reliance on out-of-date IT infrastructure, meaning a significant percentage of the total IT spend across the justice system goes on maintaining legacy systems.
Some agencies have embraced new technology more effectively than others. The more centralised structure of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) compared to individual police forces, for example, lends itself to adopting new technology more quickly. On a practical level this inconsistent pace of digitisation across the Criminal Justice System means agencies are often unable to communicate as effectively as they otherwise might. For example, statements digitised by one agency that need to be printed or copied to disc so another agency can have access to them.
There is also a continued digital skills gap. And it’s not just the need for better training for officers and administrators on the front line: it’s also recruiting coders and system designers. This expertise is in high demand in both the public and private sector meaning it can be difficult to attract these individuals to work in an overstretched civil service.
There have been significant improvements to criminal justice processes in recent years, however, despite this, many trials do not take place on their scheduled date and this problem has only been exacerbated through the pandemic. This means anxiety for trial participants and millions of pounds paid each year to counsel to prepare cases that never reach the courtroom. With further savings to be made over the coming years, there will be growing urgency for the criminal justice agencies and individual police forces to find a cheaper and more efficient way of working. It can only be hoped that this will ultimately drive the necessary shift in how the Criminal Justice System operates.