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Video enabled justice scheme will not cost £720m as chiefs predicted

PCC and project leaders reassure costs will be a fraction of what chief constables projected
Published - 31/08/2018 By - Sophie Garrod - Police Oracle

An initiative which will save officers hours of their time by allowing them to give evidence to courts remotely is up and running.

The video enabled justice scheme, which is being spearheaded by Sussex’s Police and Crime Commissioner, has also been successfully launched in Kent with aims to eventually roll it out nationwide.

Officers in Sussex spend an average of five and a half hours travelling to and from courts on every visit whilst in the Met the figure stands at four and a half hours - with no guarantee they will be called up to give evidence.

In an exclusive interview with Police Oracle, the Association for Police and Crime Commissioner’s Technology Lead Katy Bourne, said: “Why are we asking police officers to travel to court to give evidence, sit around all day – maybe, sometimes not even getting called - to maybe only give 20 minutes of evidence and then drive back before their entire shift is gone?

“If you think about a 12-hour shift - five and a half hours is pretty significant and that officer would much rather be utilised more effectively.”

The initiative, which received a cash injection of £11million last year from the Home Office, will also see detainees give live-link evidence from a custody centre to pass them through the criminal justice system more quickly, so they spend less time waiting in custody.

Last year, despite warnings from the NPCC and College of Policing, the Home Office changed the law to mean there should be a presumption that bail will not be imposed on suspects before charge.

As a result, there has been an 87 per cent drop in arrests resulting in bail in the first 12 months after the legislation changed.

Former Metropolitan Police Service Deputy Commissioner Tim Godwin, managing director of global public safety and justice at consulting company Accenture, told our reporter that video enabled justice will be a way of clearing cell blocks – providing courts can extend their working hours.

Police chiefs last year raised concerns about the project after the body calculated it could cost forces up to £720million due to custody suite renovations needed to make room for the new virtual courtrooms, which Sussex Chief Constable and NPCC technology Lead Giles York described as “completely unrealistic”.

However, former-Sussex Police Commander Mark Streater, programme director for the initiative, said the chiefs’ research into these financial projections was a “brittle piece of work”. He claimed a more in depth study showed better options were available, including introducing special video enabled justice vans to park outside instead of extensions being built.

Mr Godwin said: “If it was going to cost £720million, I, as an ex-police chief would be saying ‘hang about’, but I don’t think this is the reality. It will be significantly less than £720m – a fraction of that – otherwise it doesn’t work.”

According to Mrs Bourne the Home Office has emphatically stated it will not be pumping anymore cash into the project.

When asked if its use could be extended to include police misconduct hearings, it stated this could be a possibility in the future, as well as Crown, civil and coroner courts.

Live link technology could also be introduced in libraries and council offices for officers to give evidence when out on the beat, it added.

The technology works by letting custody officers request a hearing on the system by entering the detainee’s details.

The defence will then allocate a solicitor before being given the green light by a dedicated detention officer where all participants will be dialled into a virtual waiting room until its their turn to give evidence via a video link.

If the scheme is successful, it will be expanded to include Surrey before spreading to other south east and eastern forces.

Victims and witnesses will also be included in the project down the line to make it easier for them to give evidence, especially if they are a victim of sexual assault, a child, or are suffering from mental health issues.

In Sussex, a live-link suite been set up at the county’s Hellingly Centre – a secure hospital for adults with mental health issues.

Mrs Bourne said a female patient there was pleased to still be able to give evidence as a citizen and “it had a massive positive impact on her”.

Video enabled justice was previously trialled in south east London in 2004 when Mr Godwin was leading the Criminal Justice Board, however, it failed to take off due to technology hiccups, custody sergeants not getting along with the system and legal bench managers being too busy incorporate the live-link into the courts.

There is now confidence that the scheme will go ahead on a much larger scale due to technological advances and the backing of important partners.

Mr Godwin continued: “Katy has brought new technology, new innovation, new solutions to an old problem. The actual business case  always has been – if you don’t have to drag people to court it’s going to save money – but being able to have that foresight to actually see that all this stuff is out there now, to give it another go, is key.

“The prize is big in terms of savings of time and better satisfaction for witnesses. All that time ago I was a bit gloomy about the whole thing because of how difficult it was, but now I am very optimistic that this is going to happen.”

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