£11 million awarded to ‘improve access to justice’

A new video link initiative designed to allow officers more time for front line duties and vulnerable victims to give evidence away from court is set to be launched.

Sep 4, 2017

A new video link initiative designed to allow officers more time for front line duties and vulnerable victims to give evidence away from court is set to be launched. The Video Enabled Justice (VEJ) project, funded by £11 million from the Police Transformation Fund (PTF), will use a network of video links in police stations and other buildings so officers can give evidence directly to courts without having to be present. Vulnerable victims of crime will also be able to use the network to give evidence, or key witnesses who are unable to travel to court. VEJ will be trialled across London and the south east of England. If it is successful, it will be rolled out nationally. The £11 million awarded builds on an earlier ‘live link’ project trialled across Sussex and funded through the PTF’s predecessor, the Police Innovation Fund. In one case, live link video connections were set up in a medium-secure hospital, designed to avoid patient stress and the costs associated with moving them to and from court – saving around £1,300 per person. Sussex police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne, who leads the VEJ scheme, said: “I welcome this groundbreaking investment from the Home Office. “The Criminal Justice Partners I have worked with on this bid all want to provide the best possible experience for victims and witnesses to give evidence. “This funding will allow us to embed VEJ across the system and will deliver greater flexibility and access to court time, saving police officers and witnesses up to five hours waiting for court slots, and not requiring police to drive some defendants across the county for a five-minute hearing. “I want to improve access to justice for everyone. We know giving evidence by video works, so now we have to scale it up as part of the policing and criminal justice transformation agenda.” Since 2015, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has installed and upgraded video links across England and Wales. During 2016/17, 137,495 cases were heard via video link – a ten per cent increase on the previous year. There are now 215 witness links in Magistrates Courts and 285 in Crown Courts, which are able to connect to any courtroom in England and Wales. The Home Office also added 20 remote witness links located away from court buildings across the HMCTS regions for vulnerable witnesses. Policing and Fire Minister Nick Hurd added: “We must embrace digital policing, push forward with vital reforms and transform forces so that we can take on the challenges of policing in the years to come. “Crimes traditionally measured by the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales are down by more than a third since 2010, but we know that crime is changing. “That means we must be ambitious in our improvements and Police Transformation projects, such as VEJ, are exactly the type of endeavour that will maximise frontline police time and mean police can better respond to the evolving challenges of public safety.”

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