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New technology brings virtual courts to Devon and Cornwall

Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez is backing a much wider use of virtual courts across Devon and Cornwall. A 10 week pilot will begin today (October 3rd), and it’s hoped that this will lead to a permanent introduction in 2017.

New technology brings virtual courts to Devon and Cornwall

One centralised magistrates’ court, based in Bodmin, Plymouth or Exeter, will hear remand applications for defendants who will remain at the police custody centre until the outcome is known.  They will appear via video link.

Six custody centres will feed into one court, allowing approx 20 hearings a day. In the longer term, it’s hoped that this will expand further to include Saturday and ‘out of hours’ working.

The introduction of virtual courts across Devon and Cornwall will mean:
        •       Improved Court Utilisation (court listing)
        •       Swifter justice for victims and witnesses
        •       Reduction in overnight remand numbers at police custody
        •       Reduction in prisoner movements
        •       Reduction in cost for the Criminal Justice System (CJS)

“The introduction of virtual courts in Devon and Cornwall is excellent news.” said PCC Alison Hernandez.

“It has taken a considerable amount of careful and detailed planning and the benefit of making the best use of modern technology is enormous.  It is a different way of doing things and so many agencies are working together to make this a success that I’m excited to see how this will develop further”.

A recent, much shorter, trial period helped to refine the scheme. This further pilot phase will give the CJS agencies in Devon and Cornwall valuable experience of virtual courts and enable all stakeholders to make a significant contribution to future planning at a national level.

As criminal justice agencies develop their digital working practices, centralising the remand hearings will significantly reduce the demand on other court lists and make the process more efficient and less time consuming.

Sir Oliver Heald QC, Minister of State for Courts and Justice welcomed the initiative, saying:

“We have a world leading legal system and are investing £1billion to harness new technology and deliver a fully-connected criminal courtroom by 2020.

“This scheme in Devon and Cornwall is a great example of innovation in our courts and will help to deliver swifter justice for local people.”

Local Criminal Justice Board (LCJB) Business Manager Hannah Hart said:

“The virtual court forms part of the modernisation programme for the CJS and is an exciting innovation for the region. The leaders of the local CJS agencies are keen to promote new and innovative ways of working and using video technology to improve the efficiency of the service through easier access and quicker processes is a natural step to take.

The lengthy pilot across both counties creates considerable opportunities to identify benefits and address challenges involved with this new way of delivering services to local people.

“A full report will be provided to the Chief Executives of the CJS agencies in January 2017.”