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Is the Wi-Fi wait nearly over?

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Is the Wi-Fi wait nearly over?

When it comes to the government’s plan to make all Magistrates’ and Crown Courts in the UK fully Wi-Fi enabled, is the glass half full, or half empty?

Recently there’d been worrying news for those of us keen to see the full potential of legal IT rolled out across the nation’s courts. Just last month the Gazette reported that delays were expected in most areas, with regional courts such as those in the South West potentially suffering delays until 2017.

However, Justice Minister Damian Green insisted the timetable was very much on track, citing the £160 million initial investment in plans to make all courtrooms fully digital by 2016, not to mention the £75 annual investment pledged over the coming five years.

Rumblings of discontent from lawyers disinclined to take government promises at face value have been gathering for some time – and not without reason. Digital innovations delivered at the hands of the MoJ have not had the most glowing track record: in 2010, the High Court was promised a £10 million IT upgrade. It’s still waiting.

Speaking to the Gazette last month, Stephen Nunn at Exeter firm Nunn Rickard didn’t pull his punches. The situation, he said, had grown ‘farcical’, with Exeter relegated to the fourth tranche of courtrooms receiving a Wi-Fi upgrade.

Worse, there were concerns that the MoJ – presumably keen to preserve a centralised upgrade benefiting all courts to the same high standards – were preventing court centres from voluntarily upgrading their own Wi-Fi provision in the meantime on their own initiative.

The MoJ, however, maintains there is cause to remain optimistic, announcing that in fact it is speeding up the timetable, originally set for March 2016. In a bid to enter the ‘Wi-Fi era’ as soon as possible the new deadline is October 2015 – scarcely five months, which is either exciting news or wildly optimistic depending on your frame of mind.

Whatever the eventual date for a full roll-out, the benefits are legion. With lawyers increasingly reliant on tech innovations such as Digital Bundles, online practice management software, eDisclosure and 24-hour secure access to Cloud stage facilities, we are increasingly entering an age in which it is simply inconceivable that the legal professional can operate without effective Wi-Fi both in the office and in the courts.

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