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Tim Godwin on swift justice

New ways to streamline the criminal justice system.

Overview

In this video, Accenture’s Tim Godwin, former Deputy Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, discusses last summer’s riots and new ways to streamline the criminal justice system with Owen McQuade, Editor of AgendaNI.

With thanks to Agenda NI

Catch Tim presenting at the Ontario Chiefs of Police 2012 annual meeting in London, Ontario, Canada in June.

Background

Tim Godwin was filmed during the Northern Ireland Justice Conference held in Belfast in April 2012 on how the policing and court systems can overcome avoidable delays in administration of justice and become more efficient and effective in justice delivery.

Tim discusses the need for process improvement, improved data management and how virtual courts can reduce case delays and improve sentencing decision times - as used in London last year at the time of the riots.

Analysis
“One of the key issues that were very apparent in the early days,” Tim Godwin tells agendaNi about last August’s riots, “was the fact that a lot of people felt that they could get away with it: that crime didn’t have any consequences, the criminal justice system [was] too slow, too bloated, too bureaucratic.”

But over a number of years, Godwin had been working with the judiciary, the courts and the public prosecutors, “to actually put in place an understanding of each other’s needs.” This paid off as the criminal justice agencies were able to establish courts “very quickly” during the riots, with the processing of cases of “hundreds of offenders within hours of being charged.” The result was “a significant impact on the continuing violence, because very quickly it was shown through the media that crime does in fact have a consequence.”

Justice is, of course, not usually known for its speed. Godwin believes that this can be tackled by building relationships between the different criminal justice agencies.

“One of the ones that often gets forgotten is defence,” he states. “You have got to look at what the bureaucracy is, what requirements and evidence do you need for first hearings. You have to streamline that bureaucracy,” he explains. This needs to be supported, however, by senior judiciary and magistracy.

The virtual court, he believes, has immense potential. First piloted in Camberwell, London, and Medway, Kent, in May 2009, defendants have been able appear in first court appearances via video-conferencing, “and actually be dealt with direct from the police station where they’ve just been charged for the offence.” The initiative has now been extended to Cheshire and Hertfordshire.

The first case in Camberwell involved a domestic violence offender, who “within four or five hours of being arrested, found himself in Brixton prison having been convicted of assaulting his partner.” Godwin says that this speedy process “had a dramatic impact on the victim in the sense of the sheer relief” of knowing that the threat was lifted. Through a ‘Live Links’ pilot project, police witnesses have also been able to give evidence remotely.

Recommendations

Benefits from virtual courts are multiple, according to Godwin. Substantial time can be saved through fewer wasted police hours waiting for witnesses to be called and defendants being held in custody for significantly less time. Guilty pleas at first appearances will increase, he believes. Costs can be saved through reduced facilities requirements, transport costs and a higher percentage of on-the-spot fines. Magistrates’ time can also be used more efficiently.

Victims and witnesses can also give evidence remotely, he states. “It is being rolled out, but it’s very slow,” he explains. This involves people going to a victim or witness centre “where they’re properly looked after, where they’re not disrupted.” In not having to go to court, they don’t have to be confronted by an offender or their friends.

Other technological innovations are needed, he believes. “We don’t maximise the opportunities that we’ve got. You need single case files that are digital. Why have we got loads of bits of paper in the system? This day and age, it’s rather silly,” Godwin states, contrasting it with the effectively paper-free banking system. Single digital case filing is due to be implemented in England and Wales’ criminal justice system by the end of the spring.

Procurement is central to this. “It requires different skills. It requires technology,” says Godwin, but it is being impeded when different agencies such as the Court Service and the police have different procurement contracts.