How Remote Video Linking Transforms Criminal Justice Services

Evelyn Woodland
Apr 2, 2024

The field of criminal justice services has witnessed a revolutionary transformation with the widespread adoption of remote video linking to courts. The COVID-19 pandemic acted as a catalyst, propelling the use of virtual platforms to unprecedented levels. The His Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), having utilised video links for years, experienced a significant surge in demand during the pandemic, showcasing the efficiency and effectiveness of remote proceedings. 

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The Pandemic Effect: A Paradigm Shift in Criminal Justice Services

The pandemic forced the legal system to adapt swiftly, and video technology emerged as a key tool in maintaining essential services.  In December 2021  HMCTS to conducted a comprehensive evaluation, revealing key insights that have since shaped the ongoing evolution of criminal justice services. Across various jurisdictions and identified demographic groups, the shift to remote hearings resulted in public users reporting equal or even better experiences compared to traditional in-person attendance.

1. Working for all Users 

The evaluation focuses on increasing the experience of public user groups who felt their remote hearing experiences were less satisfying. There is court and tribunal guidance put in place to ensure that courts consistently ask users about their additional needs. This ensures that individuals requiring additional assistance have the support they need to participate fully in the legal proceedings.

2. Promoting Requests for Support and Adjustments

HMCTS recognised the importance of promoting and streamlining the process for users to request necessary support and adjustments for remote hearings. One evaluation recommendation is the significance of responding to such requests in a reasonable timeframe ahead of the scheduled hearing, ensuring that accommodations are in place to guarantee equal access to justice for all.

3. Enhancing Guidance and Education

To make the transition to remote proceedings smoother for all users, there is a need to increase awareness of existing guidance. Step-by-step instructions, including screenshots and how-to guides, including short instructional videos, have been implemented to assist users in joining and participating in virtual court hearings.

4. Facilitating Interaction during Video Hearings

The review highlighted the potential for further enhancing user interaction during video hearings. Recommendations were made to explore additional mechanisms for court users to engage with legal representatives, intermediaries, interpreters, and other support personnel. Suggestions included incorporating private chat functions or break-out rooms on the Common Video Platform (CVP), providing a more dynamic and interactive virtual courtroom experience.

5. Timely Distribution of Joining Instructions

Ensuring the smooth operation of remote hearings relies on timely communication. It was important to send out remote hearing joining instructions and links well in advance, particularly when parties require additional support. This proactive approach ensures that users have ample time to familiarise themselves with the virtual platform and address any technical or accessibility issues.

6. Improving Communication with Interpreters

Recognising the vital role of interpreters, HMCTS recommended improvements in communication and preparation. Basic information about the hearing, such as jurisdiction and type, should be provided to interpreters ahead of time. Moreover, allowing British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters to have pre-hearing contact with the individuals they will interpret for fosters better understanding and coordination, contributing to a more seamless virtual courtroom experience.

7. Legal Profession's Role in Remote Proceedings

HMCTS extended recommendations to the legal profession, urging consideration of their role in adapting to remote proceedings. Specifically, the review suggested that legal professionals consider their role in agreeing on how to receive instruction from their clients.

As we delve deeper into the era of remote video linking in criminal justice services, it's evident that the lessons learned during the pandemic have reshaped the landscape. HMCTS's commitment to addressing challenges and enhancing the user experience underscores the ongoing commitment to innovation in the legal sector. The transformation brought about by remote video linking not only unlocks efficiency but also paves the way for a more accessible, inclusive, and streamlined future for criminal justice services.

These findings are taken from the HMTCS 'Evaluation of remote hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic' Research report, published in December 2021. 

Join us for Modernising Criminal Justice 2024 on the 6th of June at the QEII Conference Centre in London. The event brings together the complete justice system, from arrest through to release.

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