Live video link to courts rolled out across West Midlands after successful six-month pilot

The ‘Live Link’ court video system is being rolled out across the West Midlands following a successful six-month pilot.

Sep 26, 2013
By Paul Jacques

The ‘Live Link’ court video system is being rolled out across the West Midlands following a successful six-month pilot.

The technology is designed to free-up thousands of hours of police time by allowing officers to give evidence at court via a video-link.

Evidence is relayed via video camera without the officer having to leave their police station, which also cuts travelling costs substantially.

The pilot at Sutton Coldfield linked the police station with Birmingham Magistrates’ Court. There were 20 Live Link trials with 42 officers listed to attend, however, in the end only five officers were actually required to give evidence.

This meant that the 37 who were not needed were able to continue their work at the station instead of travelling to and from the court. In total it resulted in 165 hours of meaningful work time saved, which equates to £3,500, as well as 640 miles of travelling costs avoided.

In one case, the equipment was used to connect Sutton Coldfield police station to Manchester Crown Court – saving 172 miles of travel.

Inspector Stewart Crawford, from the Central Justice Services team, explained: “Using the Live Link for officers across the force has the potential to reclaim 14,416 hours of officer time and a potential cost-saving of £309,655 per year.

“New technology is changing the way officers work every day and this system not only saves a lot of time, but will ultimately save the tax-payers money.

“Our long-term vision is to have everything at court digital – a completely virtual court. This could include linking up with Victim Support and installing cameras at custody blocks.

“On the back of the savings the force has had to make in recent years, we have to make the absolute best use of our resources at all times. By using this technology we will not only save officers time, but we will be able to get more officers out on the streets of the West Midlands.”

Research by West Midlands Police found that on average just nine per cent of police officers called to attend court were actually required to give evidence. During an 18-month period, more than 5,400 officers were required to attend court but just 484 actually gave evidence.

Live Link operates via a secure connection straight to Birmingham Magistrates’ Court, but can be used to connect to any court in the country.

The system continues to be used in Sutton Coldfield and is now being rolled out to police stations in Stetchford, West Bromwich, Bloxwich, Bournville and Brierley Hill.

Justice Minister Damian Green said: “We want the justice system to respond more effectively to the needs of victims, witnesses and professionals. Video technology is vital in this and I am extremely pleased that it is being used so effectively in helping to save police time in the West Midlands.

“The use of video technology is one part of our drive to create a swifter and more efficient justice system for all.”

West Midlands police and crime commissioner Bob Jones added: “The use of technology that allows officers to use their time more effectively is a significant part of the West Midlands Strategic Police and Crime Plan. The Live Link system will free-up more officer time to be spent out on the streets, where people say they want their police to be more visible.”

Digital divide

Further plans to digitise courtrooms were unveiled in June by Mr Green, with funds from the £160 million Transforming the Criminal Justice System programme being used to support the move to a fully digitised system within three years.

However, the use of virtual justice has not been without its critics. A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) highlighted that reforms to allow greater use of virtual courts had seen people left in custody for longer than necessary.

And speaking to Police Professional recently, Robin Murray, vice-chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said virtual courts made it difficult for lawyers to do their jobs. He said in some stations lawyers were “stacking up like air

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