The Police Foundation, the UK’s only independent think tank to concentrate exclusively on policing and crime reduction, is working with CGI to investigate the transformative potential of digital in the justice system, and above all to consider how digital can change the experience of witnesses, victims and the public for the better. Here the Police Foundation shares insights from our recent joint-published report Reforming justice for the digital age.
Taking a more personalised approach
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 or her case. But some will. Digitisation enables service users to be as proactive as they wish.
A number of online citizen portals which are currently in development, for example, aim to tailor communications depending on:
- Personal preference
- 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 citzens 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
Confronting the challenges
Of course, unlocking the benefits of digital brings challenges too:
- A continued – and arguably unavoidable – reliance on out-of-date IT infrastructure means 80 per cent of the total IT spend across the justice system goes on maintaining legacy systems.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, means it has adopted new technology more quickly. On a practical level this inconsistent pace of digitisation means agencies are often unable to communicate effectively. One illustration of this is the widespread practice of statements that have been digitised by one agency being printed or copied to disc so that another agency can have access to them.
- There is also a 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 demand in both the public and private sector meaning it can be difficult to attract these individuals to work in an overstretched – and in some cases underpaid – civil service.
- Finally, there is scepticism: a survey in 2016 found that just 18 per cent of CPS staff believed digitisation had improved service for victims and witnesses. There is therefore a long way to go in terms of getting buy-in from those with day-to-day responsibility for implementing wholesale digitisation of services.
Drivers for change
Today, despite the significant improvements to criminal justice processes made in recent years, half of all trials do not take place on their scheduled date. 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 agencies like the CPS, the Legal Aid Agency 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.
In our next blog we will explore how new and emerging technologies can help drive the digital transformation of the criminal justice system.