Sussex PCC's video log: PCC gives criminal justice system a digital re-vamp in response to crisis

Video links into courts and ‘Safe Consultation Booths’ have been installed into custody suites across Sussex and Surrey to keep the wheels of justice turning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sussex PCC, Katy Bourne
Sussex PCC, Katy Bourne

Commissioned by HMCTS in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Mrs Bourne’s Video Enabled Justice (VEJ) team have introduced Video Remand Hearings (VRH) for the first time in both counties.

This means that a detainee, who has been refused bail, can now be seen and heard in court without having to physically be escorted there. CPS prosecutors, lawyers, probation and interpreters can also now join court proceedings remotely, for the first time, via the same video link.

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Government guidance on social-distancing makes it apparent that the courts cannot operate as they have been ahead of the crisis and as a result police forces are also having to adapt their working practices.

The VEJ team have installed four fixed video endpoints in custody suites across Sussex to facilitate these remote hearings and limit any unnecessary travel and physical contact at this time.

In just two days of this technology going live, 17 court cases were successfully heard via video. These included, burglaries, drink/drug driving and assault offences.

Safe Consultation Booths, developed in collaboration with the Athelney Group, have also been installed into police custody centres across both Sussex and Surrey.

These unique ligature free holding booths have internal CCTV with video/audio built in to speed up criminal justice processes and provide a safe alternative to physical contact.

Not only do they facilitate the video remand court hearings, they also offer private legal consultation to take place remotely. A detainee’s legal advisor can dial into this meeting using their laptop, stopping them from having to leave their home at this time, keeping them, their families and wider communities safer.

Mrs Bourne commented: “Saving police time and keeping our frontline officers, staff and the wider communities safe is paramount. We are all having to find new ways of communicating with each other and I am determined to use technology to ease the extra pressure that the criminal justice system is currently facing.

“This VEJ solution will provide the functionalities needed to coordinate all participants in a video remand hearing and will assist in the smooth and efficient running of the court.

“Access to justice must continue through all crises. Although any change to processes takes time, breakthroughs like this demonstrate the value of technology in helping key workers keep up with the ‘normal’ during a very abnormal time for us all.”

This technology will go a long way in keeping frontline officers and staff safer during this pandemic by avoiding unnecessary contact. Investigators will now be able to conduct a remote interview with a detainee inside the booth and extension reviews of how long they should be held in custody.

This means that senior officers will no longer have to travel between custody suites across the county – saving precious operational time during this crisis and beyond.

Head of Criminal Justice & Custody for Sussex Police, Superintendent Simon Nelson said: “We are constantly seeking new ways in which we can support our criminal justice partners to deliver fair and effective justice. The new technology provided by the PCC and her team offers us further means to do this whilst supporting us to keep everyone in the criminal justice system as safe as possible at a time when self-distancing is saving lives.”