Make-a-plea online service to go nationwide after Manchester pilot
Nearly one third of people accused of low-level traffic offences have taken up the opportunity to plead online, the Ministry of Justice revealed today. It was announcing the national extension of the "Make your plea online" service piloted by Manchester and Salford Magistrates' court.
Putting summary motoring offences online would be a quick win for the government's programme to streamline the justice system with IT. Today, magistrates' courts hear half a million summary motoring offences a year, mainly concerned with speeding, failure to identify a driver or using a vehicle without insurance. The bulk of these involve guilty please submitted by post.
The online plea service will begin to be rolled out across England and Wales from March, the ministry said. The service, currently rated at the alpha stage of development, allows people who have been notified of a prosecution to make a plea at any time up to the day before the court makes a decision. Entering a plea takes about 10 minutes, the site claims. Although defendants are offered the option of pleading "not guilty", the most conspicuous wording on the site announces that a guilty plea can be rewarded by a 33% cut in fines.
Shailesh Vara, courts minister, said that the service is "reducing case time and costs for the courts and the police, ensuring that they can focus on the most complex cases. It makes it easy, simple and quick for people to access justice".
The government has announced it is investing £160 million in digital technology for courtrooms in England and Wales, including video links and Wi-Fi. Last month a report for the lord chief justice recommended that preliminary hearings in criminal cases be routinely conducted by email and video.