The e-trials of the future: Judges take part in pilot that could revolutionise court system


Scrapping paper from Britain’s courtrooms and dispensing with the need for people to be physically present in some cases could transform the way case are heard and save the legal system millions, according to the organisers of a mock "virtual trial".

The "e-trial", involving judges from the US, Britain and New Zealand, revealed how courts of the future could be digital, rather than dominated by enormous piles of paperwork put together at vast time and expense. Participants used video technology to watch the trial – which centred on an international dispute over holiday pay - and a separate screen to view case documents electronically.

A digital system has the potential to save time and money as the current paper process is “inordinately” lengthy, according to His Honour Judge Simon Brown of Birmingham Civil Justice Centre, who chaired the trial. It was hosted by electronic court bundling company CaseLines. Switching from paper to digital could save tens of millions a year, the company’s managing director, Paul Sachs, told The Independent. “One simple calculation is that amount of paper in use in the criminal court system runs at about 160 million pages per year. To store, photocopy, transport that amount of paper would cost in the region £30 million per year. That cost would go.”

But it is not just money that is saved. Cases could be stopped from getting to court, by giving earlier access to the defence of the eBundle which could result in a guilty plea without the cost of getting the defendant in front of a judge. This could result in a saving of £150 million a year, claims Mr Sachs. His estimate is based on “anecdotal evidence” that half of cases could be removed from the crown courts.

The e-trial, which took place last month is part of a wider move to save time and money by reducing the bureaucracy of the court system. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) spent several weeks piloting paperless hearings at Croydon Crown Court last summer. 

In a statement today, a Law Society spokesperson said: “The Law Society welcomes this mock virtual trial. If the courts service gets it right, with appropriate investment technical innovation could provide time and cost benefits to our legal system.”