Virtual courts are to be introduced into Cambridgeshire following tri-force agreement

PUBLISHED: 16:17 29 September 2016 | UPDATED: 16:19 29 September 2016

Jason Ablewhite Police and Crime Commisioner at Huntingdon Police HQ. Picture: Keith Heppell

Jason Ablewhite Police and Crime Commisioner at Huntingdon Police HQ. Picture: Keith Heppell

Iliffe Media Ltd

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Virtual courts are to be introduced in Cambridgeshire.

A Tri-force agreement between Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire is part of a national move towards virtual courts.

It was agreed at a Strategic Alliance Summit that staff can be recruited to run new Virtual Courts at custody locations within Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. This will bring the two forces in line with Hertfordshire which introduced Virtual Courts in 2012.

The introduction of Virtual Courts across all three forces is part of an increased move nationally to use video enabled justice.

This technology enables defendants to attend their first magistrates court hearing via a video link and is expected to save thousands of pounds every year.

Virtual Courts also make it possible for police officers to make court applications ‘virtually’, thereby reducing the time spent travelling and waiting at court. This time can be re-invested into frontline policing and protecting local communities.

Jason Ablewhite Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire, said: “The introduction of virtual courts will free up valuable police time and resources and ensure crimes are deal with both quickly and efficiently. This will not only benefit our police forces but victims and witnesses too.”

Chief Constable Alec Wood added: “The test case gave some very compelling evidence on how we can make great efficiencies by reducing officers’ time through the video-enabled virtual courts, but more importantly, how we can ensure we give the best possible service to our victims and witnesses at a difficult time.

“We remain committed to the collaborative work we already undertake and continue to work together to ensure the best service for our communities.”

The expansion of Virtual Courts across Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire is also expected to help increase the number of early guilty pleas.

In Hertfordshire the number of early guilty pleas has increased in cases where this new technology is being used.

Swifter resolution will save even more officers’ time and improve the service provided to victims and witnesses who can avoid protracted and stressful court cases.

Additional proposals agreed at the summit were the collaboration of a second phase of criminal justice functions, which include administration of justice across the three forces, plus crown court liaison officers and witness care in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. These proposals are now subject to formal staff consultation and, if confirmed, would see these business areas join typing services, tape libraries and criminal justice policy and performance which collaborated earlier this year.

The decision has also been taken to delay any structural changes in relation to collaboration of public contact, which includes the three force control rooms and crime recording teams, for at least two years. The Chief Constables and PCCs remain committed to future collaboration and convergence however as public contact is such a key business area, it is important that any changes are carefully considered and undertaken in a way that will minimise disruption for both staff and the public.

This delay will provide time to focus on the delivery of a number of IT projects which will pave the way for future collaboration including continued development of the online portal providing alternative ways for the public to contact the forces for non-emergency incidents.

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