Prisons bill confirms plans to extend virtual hearings and offer online guilty pleas

Written by Rebecca Hill on 24 February 2017 in News
News

The government has said it will extend its use of virtual hearings, and install booths in courtrooms to allow the media and the public to observe such hearings.

Royal Courts of Justice, London

Some hearings will now be heard online in efforts to reduce pressure on the wider justice system - Photo credit: PA

The Prisons and Courts Bill, which was introduced to parliament today, confirms plans set out in the government’s Transforming Our Justice System strategy, which was consulted on at the end of last year.

The reforms, which are set to cost £1bn, include a push for greater use of digital technology, with more video-link hearings and moves to scrap paper forms for all courts and tribunals in England and Wales by 2019.


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The government said that offering more virtual hearings would allow victims to take part without having to meet their attacker face-to-face and would allow more straightforward hearings, such as bail applications, to be resolved more quickly.

“Video-enabled and virtual hearings will increase so that people will only need to physically attend court when justice requires it,” the Ministry of Justice said.

In a statement setting out the main changes provided for in the bill, the Ministry of Justice gave an indication of what a court would look like after the reforms.

These changes include the installation of boots to allow the public and media a place to observe virtual hearing from court buildings anywhere in the country.

In addition, lists and results of trials will be published online, so that “justice is seen to be done”.

The Bill also confirms plans revealed earlier this month that will allow people to plead guilty to certain offences online and immediately pay a standard fine.

The government said that the plan would be trialled for three offences – railway fare evasion, tram fare evasion, and the possession of an unlicensed rod and line – and would be expanded to others, such as road offences, if successful.

There are also plans to improve the technology used by courts, making sure it is “modern and robust” and introduce WiFi, modern telephony and screens for sharing evidence.

However, there is also a planned investment of £232m in the court estate to “preserve the full majesty of the physical courtroom for cases that require it”. 

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