Brit magistrates' courts turn to video conferencing to keep wheels of justice turning

It's not just Skype and Zoom cashing in on remote-working boom

Britain's courts are moving to their own video-conferencing platform – for criminal trials rather than business meetings.

The Kinly Cloud Video Platform (CVP) will be used to hear magistrate-level criminal cases, allowing defendants to dial in from the physical safety of their own homes instead of travelling to court buildings.

It will be deployed in 60 magistrates' courts and 48 Crown courts, though Crown court jury trials will not use the platform. So far government and court figures have yet to decide what they will do about jury trials in the post-COVID-19 era.

"So far, HMCTS [Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service] has run 412 remand hearings using CVP, brought online 26 police custody suites, and connected 95 advocates, 42 Crown prosecutors, 20 Probation officers and two translators," the service said in a statement.

Britain's courts have mostly switched to video-conferencing calls in place of physical hearings, with the civil branches of the High Court using a mixture of Skype and Zoom to good effect.

Amanda Pinto QC, chairwoman of barristers' association the Bar Council, said in a statement: "We must keep the justice system going in the public interest. Barristers, along with the judiciary, court staff and many others, are determined to adapt quickly to delivering justice during COVID-19, including delivering it remotely. The new CVP platform is crucial to these efforts, enabling more cases to be heard without everyone having to gather in a physical courtroom."

Deputy chief constable Tony Blaker of Kent Police agreed, chipping in to add: "By holding court hearings remotely during this crisis, we can help to reduce the spread of the virus and ensure that the Criminal Justice System continues to operate effectively."

The move to video conferencing is part of HMCTS's £1.2bn (and counting) Common Platform Programme (CPP), which was intended to include video conferencing to replace some criminal court hearings in costly-to-maintain court buildings. Controversy has mounted over these plans, with the Society of Editors warning that open justice – allowing the public to see how judicial decisions are reached – must not be harmed as a result of video hearings.

Last year HMCTS abandoned a key plank of the CPP, with a case management system being kept in use instead of being replaced as planned. ®

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