Hertfordshire expands on success of virtual courts

Hertfordshire Constabulary is extending the use of ‘virtual’ courts with a pilot starting in Watford this month in which less complex cases involving foreign national offenders and people of no fixed abode will go straight before the virtual court for a first hearing.

Jan 28, 2015
By Paul Jacques
Ravjeet Gupta

Hertfordshire Constabulary is extending the use of ‘virtual’ courts with a pilot starting in Watford this month in which less complex cases involving foreign national offenders and people of no fixed abode will go straight before the virtual court for a first hearing.

Head of criminal justice, Detective Chief Superintendent Jane Swinburne, said: “If this is successful we will be able to widen this out to the other custody units and other areas of business.”

Earlier this month, Hertfordshire launched its fourth and final virtual court in the custody suite at Stevenage police station. They reduce the need to move offenders from custody to court by enabling them to appear before magistrates via a video link from a police station. This is not only efficient, in terms of time and travel expense, but reduces the risk of prisoners absconding.

Virtual court facilities are already operational at Hoddesdon and Watford police stations. This latest launch means that all Hertfordshire Constabulary custody units have dedicated virtual court staff. Hatfield police station is already housed in the same building as the magistrates’ court. It also has virtual court facilities that can be used by officers for matters such as warrants of further detention and remands to police cells.

Virtual courts are part of a wider project to digitalise, streamline and make the criminal justice system more efficient. In the past year, 34 per cent of remands (683) were heard via virtual courts.

Det Chief Supt Swinburne said: “Watford and Hoddesdon virtual courts have dealt with around 2,820 cases since they have been operational and seen an average 69 per cent guilty plea rate.”

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