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Video and Audio Use in Court Proceedings

Volume 677: debated on Tuesday 9 June 2020

What steps his Department is taking to increase the use of video and audio to conduct court proceedings during the covid-19 outbreak. (902959)

The increased use of video and audio is a critical component of our response to the current situation. Over the course of the past eight weeks, we have increased the number of daily remote hearings to about 4,000 per day—about a tenfold increase on the pre-coronavirus level. That means that about 90% of all hearings are now being conducted remotely.

I am very encouraged by that answer. One of the consequences of this current crisis has been the impact on public transport capacity and therefore people’s access to courts. Will my hon. Friend consider the measures brought in in this emergency to be part of the long-term future for delivering efficiency, access, and a timely disposal of justice in our courts system?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to the use of remote technology not just in the current circumstances but long into the future to help the quick administration of justice. We are now in the middle of rolling out the cloud video platform, which is the technology enabling court proceedings to happen remotely. That will be fully rolled out in the Crown court jurisdiction and the magistrates court jurisdiction by the end of this month, we hope.

We agree that with a backlog of over 1 million cases outstanding in courts and tribunals at the end of last year, before the coronavirus, virtual courts are part of the answer to tackle this particular crisis. There is, however, evidence of cases being halted because judges have felt that justice was not being properly served and of defendants in virtual courts being likely to get a more severe sentence than if they appeared in person. I also understand that the vast majority of cases have been opened just to be immediately adjourned. What assessment has the Minister made of the effect of these things on people’s lives, and will he agree to publish the number of cases simply opened and adjourned over the last five months?

The data on court listings and hearings is published regularly and available for everybody to see. On the administration of justice, it is for the judge in each case to make sure they are satisfied that justice is served by a remote hearing or by an in-person hearing. Ultimately, decisions about whether a case is heard in person or remotely are taken by the judge, having regard to the circumstances of that case. Making sure that every defendant gets a fair hearing and every witness and victim is treated properly and fairly must remain always at the heart of our approach.