Modernising criminal justice practices: The Virtual Brief

In the Law Society Gazette on the 17th November 2014, there was an article by Monidipa Fouzder about Judge Tanzer appearing via Skype as a jury returned their verdict. This was at Croydon Crown Court, a court we know well, and the teacher defendant was acquitted of sexual offences. The court Wi-Fi was used and the judge appeared when needed on the large courtroom screens.

Having just seen an NHS consultant in a large teaching hospital in London, where paper files are still trolleyed through the wards and waiting for hours seems accepted, this appears to be a beneficial advance for our ‘industry.’

So if this is the case, why stop at this development? It caused me to ponder on the technical benefits that we have got used to in business and should roll out into the criminal law arena. I don’t see why we can’t have virtual lawyers in police station custody suites. Think of the saving to the public purse on Legal Aid cases in particular, in waiting times and costs and to delays in police time Better Communications

At In Your Defence Ltd, our lawyers are experienced in holding Skype and, preferably, FaceTime conferences. Given the number of cameras and microphones in modern police custody or interview centres, I am sure it would be possible to have an effective presence.

We could monitor proceedings more successfully in order to advance and protect our client’s interests, just as surely as sitting around on that draughty bench or leaning on the custody ‘suite’ counter.

There has been a largely failed experiment in virtual first hearings in the magistrates courts for the last few years, with the lawyer having to travel to the police station. There’s lots of hanging around until the opportunity arises to have a brief chat with the client, before sitting with the defendant in front of the camera and screen to communicate with the justices.

We have advised detained clients on the good old ‘dog and bone’ for decades, so let’s come of the Internet age. Safeguards would need to be in place, such as the current secure Internet communications that In Your Defence already follow.

Also, after police stations why not use virtual appearances on routine or preliminary hearings in the crown courts? Does the modern world beckon to our outdated modes of practice?

If we do have to attend proceedings, why haven’t we got portals to download and upload documents, such as witness statements, defence case statements and trial readiness forms?  or to put paper documents into digital formats? Be upstanding, scanners in court I hear you cry!

I rest my case, particularly as I write from the cold lobby of a Metropolitan Police station and don’t want to return to see the NHS doctors too soon.

Happy virtual Winter.

The Chair.



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