20/05/2014 07:39 BST | Updated 19/07/2014 06:59 BST

The Digitisation of the Court Room - a Step Into the 21st Century


In light of the 'Criminal Justice System Digital Business Model' being launched and police body surveillance camera schemes being piloted within the UK, Milly Bygrave explores what impact this scheme could have on our justice system and what lies in the future of digital evidence.

Although the use of surveillance cameras is not a new concept, with the use of CCTV and traffic cameras being an accepted aspect of society, the Ministry of Justice is modernising courtrooms to facilitate the effective use of digital evidence in courtroom proceedings.

Come July 2016 all courts in the UK are expected to be in full digital operation with the introduction of digital screens to display evidential footage. This effort in creating a contemporary justice system has been coupled with a programme in which police officers will wear body cameras to capture footage of crime scenes, thus providing an independent, objective witness to the events within cases.

This initiative is working towards improving the efficiency of the criminal judiciary system by quickening the pace of court cases with the use of irrefutable video evidence. We are expected to see a subsequent reduction in paperwork and increased accuracy in determining facts from witness statements through the supporting evidence of a verifiable digital record of events.

Despite the benefit of providing the UK justice system with the tools to determine, without bias, case events there is an unsurprising concern over the publics right to privacy.

Emma Carr, the Deputy Director of Big Brother Watch - a civil liberties campaign group, has expressed concerns regarding the potential for this scheme to undermine trust between the public and the police. She has further suggested in interviews that the police have misdirected their attention by focusing on utilising cameras when in fact tackling the root cause of society's anti-­‐social behaviour would be more effective.

Big Brother Watch has conducted a 'Time for Transparency' campaign, publishing a paper called 'Enhancing surveillance transparency: A UK policy framework' in which a UK poll conducted in October 2013 found 66% of respondents wanted the government to publish more information regarding how their surveillance powers are used. The paper expresses the belief that "transparency data should allow the public to understand which bodies are using what legal powers, for what purpose and to what extent they lead to successful prosecutions".

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 is summarised in one line by The Guardian as

"an act making provisions for covert surveillance and access to communications records by public bodies."
The proposed programme of introducing front-­‐line police officer body cameras is in accordance with RIPA, however the Big Brother Watch group has previously claimed that RIPA does not offer appropriate protection against the misuse of surveillance privileges.

The modernisation of courtrooms is not only necessary but also essential is remaining current. The use of police cameras is not a surprising step to be taken in order to uphold justice within the courtroom. With police camera schemes in the past making the greatest impact on cases of domestic abuse and rules regarding non-­‐evidential footage being deleted after a predetermined period of time has passed - this could be the beginning of a more effective justice system in the UK.

Considering that the legal aid reform has consequentially resulted in a rise in self-representation in the courtroom - victims to crime may be relieved to have police video footage facilitating the prosecution of the offender.

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