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Next step for the modern court: online sentencing?

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Next step for the modern court: online sentencing?


In the endless drive to bring our courts into the twenty-first century, the head of the Queen’s Bench Division has mooted the idea of online sentencing for offenders.

In a speech coming shortly after formal backing of his plans to modernise the criminal courts, Sir Brian Leveson suggested that low-level offenders might avoid a repeat appearance in court, and instead be sentenced online, and pay fines by credit card (at this point one can be forgiven for imagining settling fines by PayPal).

Speaking at the Modernising Justice Through Technology conference, he said, “It should be possible to use recognised sentencing guidelines to identify a prospective sentence which the person who has just pleaded guilty can accept if he or she chooses to do so, having entered their outgoings and income (which may well be cross-checked), with the right to a hearing being reserved for those who ask for it, perhaps because they have particular mitigation.”

Now, even the most ardent devotee of legal tech might blench slightly at some of the wording. Outgoings and income, for example, ‘may well be cross-checked’; those with ‘particular mitigation’ might ask for a hearing in person. Scant room, it seems, for personal care and attention.

Perhaps there is a risk here the offenders are seen as a kind of administrative inconvenience to be despatched as swiftly and impersonally as possible – rather than members of the community who are making restitution. Might there be room for a debate as to whether the endless drive for efficiency trumps the need for justice to be discharged with due regard to the dignity of the law, the importance of community, and the needs of the offenders themselves. Are we at risk of creating a faceless legal system in which offenders feel increasingly disconnected from society?

Leveson’s preoccupation certainly seems to be with the drive towards paperless efficiency above all else, citing the unwillingness of ‘some of my colleagues’ to dispense with traditional briefs.

At Legastat, we understand that legal tech should be the means to providing clients with an effective and efficient service that meets the needs of justice and fairness – and not an end in itself. If you are looking to build a practice that thrives in the modern legal marketplace without compromising on the long-held values of the profession, contact the litigation support professionals at Legastat now.