New Digital Charter and option for online ‘guilty’ pleas included in new two-year parliamentary programme
A new Data Protection Bill and plans to make more use of digital technology in the justice process are among the measures flagged up in the Queen’s Speech on priorities for the recently elected Parliament.
Although having a lower profile than the measures related to the UK leaving the EU, they will mark significant steps in the evolution of the use of personal data and the development of digital public services.
The speech included a commitment to draft a new Data Protection Bill, to replace the act of 1988, with an emphasis on giving people more control over their personal data.
In an echo of the EU General Data Protection Regulation it will include a “right to be forgotten” when they no longer want their data to be processed – provided there are no legitimate grounds for its retention.
There will also be moves to “modernise and update the regime for data processing by law enforcement agencies”, although there are no specifics of its nature.
Among the non-legislative measures presented in the speech is the plan for a Digital Charter that would balance users’ and businesses’ freedom and security. This will involve the Government working with those from other countries and businesses to find the right balance between a free and open internet and protecting people from the threats in the online world.
The plans reflect elements of the Conservative Party general election manifesto, which pointed to the creation of a new Data Use and Ethics Commission to advise regulators, including the Information Commissioner’s Office, and Parliament on the nature of data use.
The speech also pointed towards increasing the adoption of digital technology in the justice system, with a commitment to follow through on proposals to move more of the processes online.
It referred to a modernisation of the courts system, with plans to enable those charged with less serious criminal offences to have the option of pleading guilty and paying a statutory fine online. This could only happen if the defendant actively opts into the process, and they would retain their right to have the case heard in court.
The reforms will also introduce digital services for businesses to pursue cases more quickly, such as in the recovery of debts.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service has already begun related work in some areas, including a pilot for an online divorce service. But there have been concerns that in criminal cases there would often be a need for the accused to receive support in navigating the digital processes.
Prospects for the use of video technology in courts have also been increased by plans to extend the use of virtual hearings that save victims from having to meet their alleged assailants face-to-face.
The Government claimed the changes would produce savings of about £226 million once implemented.
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0