Home & Office

Virtual courts to cut police red tape

Handheld police computers, virtual courts and joined-up computer systems will all be brought in under a review of policing
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

A shakeup of UK law enforcement promises to use technology to deal out more swift and efficient justice.

Virtual courts, handheld police computers and joined-up, crime-fighting computer systems will all be brought in under the review of policing by HM chief inspector of constabulary Sir Ronnie Flanagan.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith accepted his recommendations, saying his review will "cut unnecessary red tape and free up police officers to focus on protecting their communities".

Smith said technology will be used to:

  • Allow police officers to input information directly, via a pilot of the use of handheld devices — expected to reduce the average time taken to record each stop and search from 25 minutes to six minutes
  • Streamline IT systems to make them more compatible
  • Scrap lengthy forms used to record encounters, with Airwave radio being used instead

The Home Office is already beginning to implement proposals to boost crime-fighting tech, contained in Flanagan's interim report in September last year.

This includes setting up virtual courts via video links between police stations and magistrate courts.

This system allows first hearings, and in some cases sentencing, to be handled without the need to produce a prisoner at court — cutting the average time between charging a suspect and a first hearing for bail from nine and a half days to less than three and a half hours.

Other time-saving, crime-fighting devices and initiatives are also being exploited, including video ID parades, live-scan electronic fingerprinting, wearable body cameras and a £50m capital fund to deliver 10,000 mobile data devices to officers by September.

A Police Federation of England and Wales spokesman said: "We are in favour in principle of the technology aspects of the review, if measures such as using PDAs can be shown to reduce bureaucracy. But we want to make sure that it is properly thought-out and properly funded. Hopefully it can be worked out so it can be realised at a reasonable cost and within a reasonable timescale."

The president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, chief constable Ken Jones, praised the use of technology to reduce the administrative burden on police officers.

Jones said in a statement: "The review intelligently recognises that the answer to reducing bureaucracy is to use technology more effectively. If key processes are standardised, then paperwork will diminish."

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