System speeds up justice, say officials

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The high-tech ‘virtual court’ system is being expanded across the county with the aimof speeding up justice

Just weeks ago, a Lithuanian lorry driver was banned for drink driving just two hours after being charged by the police.

He had been stopped at Dover, breathalysed and found to be four times over the limit.

He was charged at 9.21am, and after appearing before a magistrate using the virtual court system, he was banned from the road at 11.35am.

The system uses high tech equipment so a defendant can sit in front of a camera in a special room at a police station, and be seen in a courtroom.

Trials and hearings are then conducted in the normal way.

So far more than 2,200 people in Kent have appeared before court since the new system was introduced in May, 2009. Just a couple of stations were equipped at launch but has now been extended, and currently includes Ebbsfleet, Medway, Maidstone, Tonbridge, Folkestone, Margate and Canterbury.

The Ministry of Justice said: “In addition we have live links in operation at Ashford, Coldharbour and Bluewater. Kent is a shining beacon in country for this technology.”

At first witnesses were not using the system, but Kent wanted to include them, and a ministry spokesman said: “Kent already uses video technology for witnesses giving evidence both from police stations and a court.

“There are five courts that are equipped to deal with video technology. They are Medway, Maidstone, Canterbury, Folkestone and Margate.”

And she revealed Kent wants to go yet another step, and said: “Warrant application discussions are underway, but not in use yet.”

Policing and Criminal Justice Minister, Nick Herbert said: “We are making the criminal justice system more efficient to the local communities it serves. We want to ensure that where cases go to court they are dealt with as swiftly as possible and that we maximise the use of modern technology.

“Virtual courts are playing a key part in this. We have seen already that they can be used successfully in areas such as Kent and that they help us to work with local police and the courts to ensure speedy and effective justice.”

And Det Insp Claire Nix added: “The use of the virtual court system in Kent has been a success. We have saved a huge amount of police time.”

After the initial success, the police wanted to include witness evidence, and that too is now possible and defence counsel can be at either location.

DI Nix added: “The force is working smarter to offer the best level of service to residents and make the county even safer.”

Time is saved by not physically transferring defendants or having police officers travel.



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