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Courts service to test virtual hearings



Digitisation plans also involve placing low level cases online, along with adoption and divorce proceedings

HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is planning to test a ‘virtual hearings’ system under which defendants will be able to appear before magistrates through a video link.

It is one of a number of plans that has been highlighted by the service’s chief executive, Susan Acland-Hood (pictured), in an update on its reform priorities.

She said it reflects a move to the second stage of the reform, in which a number of projects that have been developed in limited form are built out further.

The virtual hearings system will be tested with police in the South-East to provide a video link from police stations to magistrates’ courts, enabling the latter to decide whether to grant bail or place a defendant on remand without transporting them to the court.

It will also allow representatives to appear remotely, including talking to their clients before the virtual hearing.

Among the other plans are to extend the functions of the Common Platform, currently undergoing a pilot, to give legal professionals early online access to details of their clients’ charges and initial case material.

Low level

There are also plans to digitise the process for dealing with low level cases on public transport fare evasion, TV licensing and those involving the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency; and to digitise processes for adoption and resolving divorces.

In tribunals, people appealing social security or child benefit decisions will be able to make their applications fully online.

“The changes we are making are far-reaching,” Acland-Hood says. “The task is to make justice easier, faster, and simpler to access, underpinned by slicker and more reliable processes, using the best the modern world can offer.”

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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