Going Digital

I embrace technology like an American President with no heed to etiquette embraces Her Majesty. On occasion I embrace the wrong technology, like mini discs instead of MP3s or hard drive DVD players instead of iPads. When I have caught up I like to use technology, so Archbold is no longer carted around in my bag with its tissue paper pages but nestles happily in my iPad, alongside my sentencing guidelines and espisodes of Dr Who. I have a blog, Facebook, Twitter and even Tumblr. I draw the line at Snapchat, which may be a product of my suspicion of people who would want to send pictures that disappear. 

So I welcome the advent of DCS and PCU wifi. This is a huge step forward for the criminal justice system and is a laudable achievement. I reserve judgement on PTPHs until I experience them in all their glory. Yet, in theory, I raise a hypothetical three cheers for the use of technology in our courts. 

And there is the rub. I welcome it in theory. There will be teething problems. It is the responsibility of all to iron out these problems. I worry about being able to take the necessary equipment on prison visits into establishments which currently will not allow me to wear a watch. I wonder how people that do not embrace technology are going to cope.

My greatest fear is the existing infrastructure. The system relies upon technology and the Internet. What if this goes wrong? What are the chances of it going wrong? How frequently could it go wrong sufficiently to cause problems?

When the system is rolled out in all its glory, when it is fully implemented, paper will not exist. Statements, photographs and documents will whizz between Judge, jury and counsel with the same magic that Mike TeeVee whizzed through Wonka’s chocolate factory. 

Is the internet being “down” going to be the new burst pipes? I experience problems with my internet at home. From time to time it disappears and Mrs VFTN and I have to rely upon Victorian ways of passing the evening, like conversation. Is there a Plan B if the internet vanishes due to the provider or equipment failure? (In Court, not in the VFTN household).

Is this a problem worth worrying about? Experience tells us that we do have reason to worry. Past performance is no guarantee of future prosepcts for investments but they are a pretty good indicator for Government IT projects. And it is not a happy history. The familiar tale is an interesting combination of being over-budget and under-resourced at exactly the same time. 

I am currently going about my business in one of my regular haunts. Every morning I log my details on to the Xhibit system against the cases I am doing. This allows the court to know who is who and where they are. It expedites payment. It allows the public to look at screens adorning the building to find out what cases are in the courtroom and where the court are up to in the list.

For the last week or so the screen outside the courtroom has had a piece of paper sellotaped to the front of it. The paper displays which cases are in the list because the technology has gone wrong and we are having to make do. We have gone from paperless to papering over the faults.

Fans or otherwise of Alanis Morrisette will appreciate the irony of this irony. Digital working in the courts could be a wonderful thing. If it goes wrong there could be a lot of empty screens, blank faces and wasted days. 

8 thoughts on “Going Digital

  1. J Solicitor

    I don’t mind the digital stuff but the issues are:
    – can’t use your wifi or the DCS portal in the court cells. So that digital working you were trying to do won’t happen for defence.
    – no papers for client, how is client going to see/read the papers, noone giving the answers
    – court wifi will crash as soon as someone goes onto netflix, spotify etc and noone will use it.

    Similar problems to the LAA online portal which is down for hours every day stopping pesky solicitors doing legal aid apps at court.
    God knows what it is going to be like when supposedly on 1st May its online only for legal aids.

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    1. Mark Barrington

      A great piece, thanks for taking the time and posting.

      As Progeramme Manager for the CJS Efficiency Programme, it is my team that has delivered DCS, PCU WiFI and In-Court Presentation (still in deployment), I am please to see that the early benefits of digital working are being understood and realised. Whilst there are bottlenecks in nearly every system, lack of connectivity to the web would certainly “slow” the working in the courts, that does not stop practitioners having personal business continuity plans, the ability to download a PDF copy of the bundle onto your device is simple one click process.

      With regards to J Solicitors points, PCU WiFi is accessible in the court custody area, you only need to be in “flight-mode” when directly with your client (not ideal, but good first steps), and alas we had to already put blocks in place for Netflix, iTunes etc. due to “misuse” by the user community.

      The system and processes will develope further with practitioner input like this, thanks again.

      Mark Barrington

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  2. Southwark wanderer.

    The court often has no control over what can and cannot be taken into the cells. It can differ dramatically between courts and even between the shifts of the various private companies running the fella within courts. Security is a matter for them. Whatever happened to the much vaunted sealed tablets to be given to Ric defendants. That should end that problem. Sort it.

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  3. Southwark wanderer.

    The court often has no control over what can and cannot be taken into the cells. It can differ dramatically between courts and even between the shifts of the various private companies running the cells within courts. Security is a matter for them. Whatever happened to the much vaunted sealed tablets to be given to Ric defendants. That should end that problem. Sort it.

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      1. Southwark wanderer

        I will remember to tell the custody manager they must allow it Coz u said so, and then tell the judge he must have power to overide security for the same reason.

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  4. cjsefficiency

    How can it be an override of security if the process and policy allows it? Anyway, as the LAA Crime News states on the subject; Please send details of courthouse equipment issues, including where and when it happened to CJSEfficiency@cps.gsi.gov.uk, please fee free to pass this on to the Custody Manager.

    The Judiciary (through the newly formed BCM Judicial led LITs) are very much behind this and are already having meetings (I know of in London) with local HMP Governors to highlight the issues in legal professionals gaining access to clients in custody.

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