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Every court to get live video links

COURTS are introducing routine video-conferencing, a major electronic archive and wi-fi in every building under a broader revolution in digital justice to save up to £25 million a year.

The system, still creaking under the sheer weight of papers, continues to suffer delays and disruptions because witnesses cannot be called or productions cannot be accessed.

However, by the end of 2016 every court will have video -conferencing facilities to allow evidence to be given remotely and even to allow accused to speak to their lawyers when they are not in the same place. By the same point Scotland will have a digital evidence vault, storing all documents and audio, video and picture content.

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The work is part of a wider Digital Justice Strategy from the Scottish Government that has already seen, for example, legal aid applications move online and police officers issued with body cameras.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "By being at the forefront of digital advances, Scotland's justice system can use technology to shape how our communities access advice and protect their rights as citizens. We predict that, by digitising our justice systems and operating efficient processes, we lower our costs and save in excess of £20-£25m annually.

"We have already seen how digitising our justice systems can deliver savings. Civil and criminal legal aid applications are, for example, now submitted online which, in 2011-12, provided an efficiency saving of £387,000.

"About £3m a year is also being saved by identifying accused who are due to appear in court, and live video-conferencing TV links are saving money in our criminal justice system and also our administrative and civil justice systems.

"Ultimately, these moves are about more than saving money, they are about broadening access to justice to ensure Scots have access to the information they need, and that Scotland is a fairer and safer society as a result."

Video-conferencing is rarely used in Scottish courts, although some evidence is given by video link, often to protect vulnerable witnesses, such as children in sex crime cases. Having such a link in every court is seen as a way of improving access to justice, not just saving time for those giving evidence.

The Digital Justice Strategy said: "Greater use of live video-conferencing television links will allow agents to speak with their clients without meeting them.

"Court diets can proceed using live video-conferencing television links, thereby reducing distress for some of our participants and be more convenient for witnesses, police, lawyers and courts. It will also speed up our criminal justice system."

Simple things such as wi-fi in courts should also ease communication by those involved in cases, saving time and money. So, too, will the digital vault. The strategy said: "Capturing and storing evidence digitally should shorten court process and time, and speed up trial diets and hearings.

"This will provide savings for agents, Police Scotland, the Scottish Legal Aid Board, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Scottish Court Service and Scottish Prison Service."

Police Scotland is, after years of discussions, putting in place a national computer system many officers believe is a bigger revolution than the single force itself. The much-awaited i6 system, nine months behind schedule in its latest incarnation, should be in place in 2016.

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