A government report has confirmed it plans to roll out a scheme that allows petty criminals to plead guilty online and then have their sentence handed out over a computer.
“Under this proposal, defendants who opt in to the online procedure and plead guilty will be offered the option to accept a pre-determined penalty (including the payment of any appropriate compensation and costs), be convicted and pay the amount immediately.” said the report.
To be clear, this is not a person being convicted by a computer algorithm, rather it would simply allow low-level crimes to be settled online.
Initially the system will be tested with petty crimes that are non-imprisonable such as: Railway fare evasion, tram fare evasion, and possession of unlicensed rod and line.
While there are some concerns that prosecuting criminals over the internet might damage the credibility of the justice system the government disagrees saying that it thinks it is possible to impose the system, “without compromising the principles of our justice system.”
“As set out above, this procedure will apply to cases which already generally require minimum involvement from magistrates and would otherwise be decided by a single magistrate on the papers without the need for a court hearing.”
In addition the process will be entirely voluntary allowing a defendant to opt out at any point and revert to having their case heard in court instead.
Once a person has pleaded guilty they’ll then be required to pay a standard penalty.
As outline by the report, “the statutory standard penalty may be comprised of a number of elements – a Victim Surcharge, prosecution costs and compensation as well as a fine – as set out at paragraph 21f. We also propose to refer to the procedure as automatic online conviction to distinguish it from criminal court proceedings which might take place online.”
To prevent any unwanted side-effects from moving the system online such as mistaken identity or cyber-attack the report also lays out some basic security procedures to help establish the identity of the defendant including their date of birth, National Insurance Number and a Unique Reference Number.
It’s not clear when the process will be rolled out but the report does mention that the government is already working on finalising many of the systems that will need to be implemented in order to make it work.