Pleading guilty online could work just fine, says Sir Leveson

Sir Leveson has enhanced his visionary status at today’s Modernising Justice Through Technology expo. This time, he turned his attention to people who’ve committed ‘low-level’ offences. If Sir Leveson has his way, their ‘court appearance’ could take place from the comfort of their own home.

We’ve already seen driving offences relegated to a PayPal-type procedure. Sir Leveson believes that demoting similar, less serious offences to a turnkey website could:

  • save the government substantial costs;
  • reduce the backlog at the courts;
  • help prevent the delay or misplacement of case files.

Modernising Justice Through Technology

The President of the Queen’s Bench Division is on a roll. Only yesterday Michael Gove, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, voiced public support for another of Sir Leveson’s recommendations. Of a similar ilk, it also centred around speeding up efficiency of the UK’s criminal courts.

The argument there was that there are two justice systems in the UK. The international jetset has access to one, and can settle with a swipe of their American Express Platinum card. Everyone else has to put up with an ancient, creaking justice system whose “wheels are falling off it”.

But back to Sir Leveson’s Keynote Lecture, today. Yes, it too points to a justice system cracking and creaking at the seams.

It’s not only the burden of cases trickling through the courts that’s weighing the system down, though. It’s also to the archives, to which the courts dedicate “acres of rooms”, that Sir Leveson refers. And to the systematic regurgitating of protocol that’s served the courts:

“albeit with parchment and quill, [for] 300 years”.

Sir Leveson’s Keynote was empathetic to judges who’ve served their time handling paper documents. But it stressed the need to draw a line in the sand.

It’s time to bring the British criminal justice system online. Not only for the traffic offenders who can settle their dues digitally. But also for the lawyers, judges and all courtroom staff behind the scenes.

And whilst the ‘imperfect’ system is some way advanced, it makes sense to roll out the ability for the accused to play their part in the streamlined court process.

Are there any real arguments for the defence, m’lud?

Why waste the courts’, taxpayers’ and low level offenders’ time waiting for days, weeks and the postman? Why wait to bring their case to court when they can plead guilty and settle their fine online?

Yes, if there’s a case for mitigation, the accused should be able to contest the sentence online, too. And they will. Then the courts can take action and decide the appropriate response.

But for the sake of a £100 fine, which costs all parties much more in time alone? Then, yes, a portal to put the (digital) case to bed makes sense. To have all parties access and retrieve the files online when they need them makes sense.

Should we continue producing triplicate notes that have the potential to get lost or delayed?

And what about when a case is closed? Will it do to archive reams of notes, just to gather dust long after the judge who passed sentence has retired to the Algarve?

If for no other reason than to save a few acres of trees, bringing the criminal justice system online makes sense.

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