Digital Justice in the near future

What might the justice system look like in 2020?

Here’s a fictional example of the digital technology that could be used to manage cases…

“The police are called to a shoplifting case in a local supermarket. In the process of trying to leave the premises with stolen goods the accused allegedly assaults a security guard before being held awaiting the police. He has no ID on him and is reluctant to give his name. The police officer uses an app on his smart radio which carries out a facial recognition check to attempt to confirm his identity. The smart radio receives an instant response from the central justice hub with a photo match and informs the police officer of the accused’s full name and address and that he has an outstanding fine payment from a previous offence. Before the police leave the shop they review and upload some CCTV evidence to the central justice hub and attach it to the electronic police report they’ve created on the spot. The police report is sent directly to the Crown Office case marking queue for them to decide how to proceed. After escorting the accused to the local police station their work on this case is complete. As they arrive at the police station a notification has already been received from the Crown office that the accused can be released on conditional bail. After being informed of the bail conditions and electronically signing his acceptance the accused is free to leave.

Fast forward to a Skype meeting between the accused, sitting in a private booth in his local library, and his defence lawyer, sitting in his office. The defence lawyer has direct access to the CCTV footage which clearly shows his client stealing from the shop but only partially shows the alleged assault. They decide they’re ready to proceed to a trial.

Fast forward to the day of the trial. The presiding judge arrives at court and checks his case management work queue. He has three cases to hear in the morning but attends to other business as the live attendance dashboard informs him that none of the cases have all their attendees in the court building yet.

The defence lawyer has already checked in electronically at the court and is concerned that his client is not present. One of his client’s bail conditions was to allow his phone location to be tracked and when his defence lawyer checks this via the central justice hub he sees that his client is two streets away from the court house. Two minutes later he receives a notification on his smart phone that his client has arrived and has been checked in automatically based on his proximity to the court house reception. As everyone is now present, the judge receives a notification in his work queue to indicate that one of his three cases is now ready to proceed. He updates the case record to notify the accused, his defence lawyer, Crown prosecution representative and the single witness that the case will commence in 5 minutes.

As the trial actors enter the court room the judge briefly reviews the case file summary on his screen. The accused has, prior to the trial date, accepted that he is guilty of shop lifting but denies assaulting the security guard and the judge sees that this is the only relevant point to be debated.

A short while later the judge decides that the accused is not guilty of assault and issues a fine for the shop lifting offence and orders the offender to agree a payment plan to pay his previous and new fine before leaving the court house. The court is cleared as the judge notices on his work queue that all participants in another of the two remaining morning cases are now in attendance and are ready to be called. This time he issues a 15-minute notification to allow him to complete and close his first case file.

As our offender has a mobile phone he agrees a 12-month instalment payment plan to be paid via his mobile phone bill. He also accepts that his location will remain trackable until the final payment is made. He has the choice to pay the balance or more than the monthly payment at any time via the courts mobile website. As soon as the fine balance is clear his location will no longer be trackable.”

So what are the benefits?

Easy access to data that enables and supports the process

  • identity assurance – we quickly know exactly who we are dealing with
  • early access to case data – e.g. CCTV evidence may result in earlier pleas and fewer cases going to court
  • previous convictions – a more holistic view of the offender

Offender tracking

  • tracking can be used to monitor current, and predict future trends
  • soft sanctions that may help reduce re-offending

More efficient court scheduling

  • less time wasted waiting for cases to proceed as they are called in the order of availability meaning all case actors have an incentive to turn up on time (this is already happening in Malaysia)
  • more control placed in the hands of the presiding judge

Greater visibility and control of collecting fine payments

  • new payment channels reduce volume of desk or phone payments with more accurate, automatic reconciliation
  • additional payment channels for those who may not have a bank account

But there are challenges…

  • greater data sharing trust needed between justice organisations
  • creation of shared infrastructure to host centralised resources
  • potential changes to legislation e.g. to allow location data to be gathered and stored

Do the benefits outweigh the challenges? I think so, but what do you think? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.