Hi-tech justice

The Hutton inquiry has been a showcase for new technology. Robert Verkaik asks: is this the future for courtrooms?

Whatever else happens after Lord Hutton delivers his findings into the circumstances of the death of Dr David Kelly, judicial inquiries will never be the same again. The state-of-the-art technology in the marquee set up behind the Royal Courts of Justice in London has allowed journalists and public to follow every spit and cough of evidence without the need to set foot inside court 73. The technology also means that key documents are no longer closely guarded by the clerks of the court but can be inspected by anyone who cares to log on to inquiry's website.

In future, perhaps all courts will be the same. Court reporting could eventually evolve into a virtual discipline in which journalists need only visit a single press centre with computer links to every courtroom in the country.

Three years ago, ministers committed themselves to the computerisation of all 78 Crown Courts in England and Wales by 2005. The scheme was part of a £94m programme to speed up justice, improve efficiency and provide better treatment for victims, witnesses and jurors in the Crown Court. But with little more than a year to go before the deadline expires, only eight crown courts are fully computerised, with five more expected to go "live" in the next few months. Systems for the electronic presentation of evidence are up and running in nine crown courts, including the Old Bailey.

Part of the reason progress has not been as speedy as many would like is limited funds made available by the Treasury. Like all ministries, the Department for Constitutional Affairs has to compete for money against other government projects.

But the massive IT panoply surrounding the Hutton inquiry was set up in just a week and shows just what can be achieved when Downing Street fully backs a project.

Andrew Wright, IT service manager at the Royal Courts of Justice, is certain that the Hutton technology could be easily adapted for big civil court cases. "For Hutton, we had to scan all the hard copies of the documents into the system, but in most trials, the bulk of evidence would already be in the right form and could be used immediately."

Mr Wright expects the first Hutton-style hi-tech courtroom in the near future. "Because the Court Service has done it all to our own specification, it shows we could set it up again pretty quickly."

But none of the Hutton technology would have been possible without the pioneering work undertaken at the Bloody Sunday inquiry, where £11m was spent on adapting technology for the coverage of the judicial proceedings. Part of the reason the cost has been so high is that the inquiry has been set up in two locations - London and Northern Ireland. Its funding comes directly from the Northern Ireland office.

The Bloody Sunday chairman, Lord Saville, has wasted no time in using the technology to impress upon his fellow judges the benefits of computerised proceedings.

One recent convert to courtroom IT is the Master of the Rolls, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers. He visited the inquiry while it was sitting in London and is now adding his voice to calls for more Government money for IT in courts. Earlier this year Lord Phillips said that without enough money for new technology the courts system was at risk of falling apart.

He opposes the current Treasury policy to recoup more money from the public by increasing court fees so that the civil courts become self-financing. He says that the policy has no statutory basis and will deny access to justice.

It is perhaps easy to get carried away with the advantages of using technology to create automated court hearings. All this has to be tested against the principles of justice. But Lord Hutton's decision to allow Dr Kelly's widow to testify by audio link marks the growing use of this technology. Rodney Warren, director of the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association, says that in criminal cases the desire to protect the witness has to be balanced with the need for a fair trial. "In the last few years there has been a growing consensus that that the court has a much greater responsibility to protect vulnerable victims. But there is a potential conflict because justice must also be seen to be done and so video links and other technologies obviously have their limitations."

Michael Schwarz, criminal law expert with London human rights law firm, Bindmans, said it was also important that the jury had the chance to "assess the credibility and demeanour of the witness first hand rather than on television."

News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
filmSir Ian McKellen will play retired detective in new film
Life and Style
tech
News
Justin Bieber performing in Paris earlier this year
people
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil