Headlines: February 20th, 2002

A pilot project has been launched to reduce court delays and witness waiting times by improving communication between everyone involved in Crown Court cases. Currently a quarter of hearings are cancelled on the day they are due to go ahead, frequently because witnesses do not attend.The project uses the Internet and mobile phone text messaging to improve the sharing of information about court hearings between the court and other criminal justice organisations including the Crown Prosecution Service, the police, prisons, Probation Service as well as victims, witnesses, solicitors and barristers. The court clerk will record the progress of a case, such as “jury is sworn-in” or “prosecution has started”, directly onto a computer in the courtroom as it happens. This information can then be automatically notified to the criminal justice organisations and lawyers involved in the case in a manner of their choosing eg by e-mail, text message to a mobile phone, fax or pager.

Court staff can also use the same technology to communicate other hearing information, for example, proposing a change to court schedules if there is an unexpected guilty plea and a gap in the schedule appears. The Crown Prosecution Office in the Court building has a screen displaying updates about the progress of cases and this allows them to inform witnesses via mobile phone or pager when they will be required in court to give evidence.

The service has been supplied by EDS, the Court Service’s PFI IT supplier at a cost of 2.4 million pounds.