Copping on to legal tech

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Legal industry observers keenly watching the march of technological progress across the profession may well have paused to wonder when the twenty-first century was likely to alight on other aspects of our judicial system.

Though some have accused lawyers of being rather slow on the IT uptake, there is nonetheless evidence that many firms and chambers are engaging with legal tech innovations with enthusiasm. The SRA has warmly recommended Cloud data storage, eDiscovery is increasingly relied upon to examine and collate bulk evidence, and digital bundles are more and more a welcome option for harassed practitioners.

Yet criminal lawyers, in particular, may have wondered whether the police forces have been equally willing to embrace IT innovations. From the police officer’s helmet unchanged in a century to the presence of analogue recording equipment in the interview room (surely the police are the last remaining customers for cassette tapes) and the unmistakable policeman’s notebook, there are aspects of the copper’s daily work which might have been recognised by the original Inspector Lestrade.

But, as the Guardian reports, the Ministry of Justice is making moves to bring the police force’s distinctly dated working practices up to date. Police officers are to be expected to make digital recordings of interviews at crime scenes on mobile devices, and present filmed evidence at court. The project- which the Guardian says is “aimed at dragging 19th-century trial procedures into the 21st century”, is part of an ambitious objective to make all criminal courts operate digitally by July 2016. It is expected that the avalanches of paperwork trailing red tape which characterise a busy criminal court will be replaced by an altogether more sleek series of video screens and laptops.

Says the Guardian: “Most likely to be affected is the success rate of domestic abuse cases, traditionally among the most difficult to prosecute but where visual evidence of victims’ injuries is routinely presented at the court.”

Other modernising initiatives will include 500 officers in the Met’s firearm units being equipped with body cameras, and an ambitious ‘TrackMyCrime’ system which aims to keep witnesses and victims up to speed with progress on their cases (which, incidentally, reads rather like one of the April Fool stories this blog uncovered recently).

Time will tell whether a hard-pressed and under-resourced police service will succeed in such a significant tech overhaul – but there is reason to be cheerful. If the legal profession, noted for justifiable pride in ritual and tradition, can make effective use of tech innovations in partnership with litigation support professionals such as Legastat, it bodes well for the police – and, ultimately, for the public good.

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