Paper records in the dock at Crown Prosecution Service

Crown Prosecution Service CIO on going digital
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

Crown Prosecution Service CIO on going digital

For almost 200 years the justice system in England and Wales has relied upon paper records to prosecute criminals - but now moves are afoot to modernise the system for the digital age.

Today the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the body charged with handling criminal cases in England and Wales, uses paper records as well as a computerised case management system called Compass, which holds the details of the one million cases it deals with each year.

As computerised data becomes more prevalent, the service is looking to reduce the amount of paper it generates and increase its use of digital records - with a view to reducing its costs and making it easier for information to be shared between the CPS and the courts and police.

The CIO of the CPS David Jones, who will be speaking at the 360°IT event in London on Thursday, told silicon.com the CPS is now looking to move towards an all-electronic case file.

"We are trying to get to a position where we can receive and send information in a digital form, and by doing so remove the requirement for paper.

"We are trying to take full advantage of the electronic medium, moving towards the electronic case file and use that as the basis for our delivery," he said.

The justice system's reliance on multiple copies of paper records places a large cost burden upon the CPS and its criminal justice partners, according to Jones.

"We do about one million cases a year and we produce things in quadruplicate - so it's an awful lot of paper, storage and movement," he said.

"The bigger the case the more paper gets delivered [to court and the barristers and solictiors involved in the case]. If we could turn that into a simple secure disc exchange, then we have made some very big steps forward."

The Crown Prosecution Service is examining ways to maximise its use of digital records

The Crown Prosecution Service is examining ways to maximise its use of digital records
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

The CPS' current Compass system already stores at least a summary of each criminal case being handled by the service but does not hold certain evidential exhibits, such as audio recordings of interviews.

"That's one of the questions that we are addressing at the minute - how do we work with police and others to get the exhibits into the digital format and into the bundle," Jones said.

The CPS is now running projects in five parts of the UK to see which criminal justice procedures would need to be changed as a result of making greater use of digital records and evidence - including examining how the service's dealings with the police would be affected.

"There are lots of different issues that come to bear and not necessarily technological ones," Jones said.

The CPS is also attempting to ...

...simplify the exchange of information with the police, the courts and the defendant's legal team, by increasing its use of digitised information.

"We are looking at how we can exchange information better, how we can do it in a quick, cost-effective manner that can scale up, with the precision and the necessary protection that goes around the information," Jones said.

Summary sheets containing case information - such as the who, what, when and where of cases - are already able to be transferred between systems used by every police force in England and Wales and the CPS case management system, and there are also plans to put a system in place from mid-2011 that will also allow the CPS to also send information back to police force systems.

Jones said that he is even open to exploring the idea of using some sort of secure cloud computing based system, where information is hosted on a central system and accessed over the internet, to share information with its criminal justice partners.

The Crown Prosecution Service is working on ways to improve its information sharing with police forces

The Crown Prosecution Service is working on ways to improve its information sharing with police forces
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

"We are looking at all options in the justice arena for the exchange of information and the cloud, web 2.0 and associated product bases are all about low cost and ease of exchange - so it would be remiss of us to ignore that," he said.

In spite of the benefits of moving away from paper, Jones said that the CPS has to be very careful that any change will not upset the judicial process or generate costs elsewhere in the justice system.

"[Paper] is what the judicial system has been based on for a very long time - everything was built upon a pre-computer environment," said Jones.

"You can't just march in and say everything is now electronic without having a very strong understanding about what that means to the citizen and the people involved in defence, the courts, judiciary and the police," he said.

The CPS believes that digital records will be as reliable and efficient as their paper equivalents, but now must demonstrate whether the belief is well-founded, according to Jones.

Once the digital records are seen to operate as well as paper, there "will be a rapid acceleration" in take-up, he added.

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