‘Ground-breaking investment’ has been secured for a video-enabled justice project led by Sussex’s Police and Crime Commissioner.
The initiative, led by Katy Bourne, has been awarded £11m by the Home Office to allow more police officers, witnesses, and victims to give evidence in court via video.
If successful, the scheme, which will be piloted across London and the South East, could be rolled out nationally.
It builds on an earlier project trialled in Sussex where live links were installed in police stations across the county, including at Bogonr Regis, Brighton, Chichester, Crawley, Eastbourne, Hastings, Hawyards Heath, Horsham, Lewes, Littlehampton, Rye, Uckfield, and Worthing.
Mrs Bourne said: “I welcome this ground-breaking investment from the Home Office.
“The criminal justice partners I have worked with on this bid all want to provide the best possible experience for victims and witnesses to give evidence.
“We recognise that the conventional routes and processes into our courts are not as effective or user-friendly as they could be.
“This funding will allow us to embed video enabled justice (VEJ) across the system and will deliver greater flexibility and access to court time, saving police officers and witnesses up to five hours waiting for court slots, and not requiring police to drive some defendants across the county for a five minute hearing.
“At the core of the VEJ solution is the scheduling service which matches up to 300 available video end points to participants including the police; defence, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service staff; judge or magistrate and defendant.
“I want to improve access to justice for everyone.
“We know giving evidence by video works, so now we have to scale it up as part of the policing and criminal justice transformation agenda.
“If businesses and government can operate digitally by default we should aim for the criminal justice system to do the same where possible, we owe it to victims and witnesses to get this right.
“I am delighted that after a competitive tender process, I have appointed Accenture as our delivery partner for the VEJ programme.”
The fresh funding will help deliver a core VEJ solution, a scheduling service which matches video-end point availability to participant availability.
The four stages that this phase of the VEJ programme will focus on are: prison to court video links, bail application virtual court appearances, police witness live link court appearances, and victim and witness live link court appearances.
Nick Hurd, minister for policing, said: “We must embrace digital policing, push forward with vital reforms and transform forces so that we can take on the challenges of policing in the years to come.
“Crimes traditionally measured by the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales are down by more than a third since 2010, but we know that crime is changing.
“That means we must be ambitious in our improvements and Police Transformation projects, such as video enabled justice, are exactly the type of endeavour that will maximise frontline police time and mean police can better respond to the evolving challenges of public safety.”
Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) has also worked closely with the Sussex Criminal Justice Board on this initiative, and will continue to work closely with them in the development and delivery.
From 2015 under a rolling programme, HMCTS has installed and upgraded video links across England and Wales.
According to the Home Office, there are now 215 witness links in magistrates’ courts and 285 witness links in crown courts.
As well as installing video links in police stations in Sussex, the medium secure hospital at Hellingly was also connected.