Plans to join up the disparate digital platforms used across the criminal justice system are still some way off, according to a report by the justice watchdogs.
The criminal justice system involves many different agencies, including the Crown Prosecution Service, the police, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office – and replacing paper-based systems used by those organisations and ensuring compatibility remains a significant challenge.
The Criminal Justice Joint Inspection report – put together by HM chief inspector of the CPS Kevin McGinty and chief inspector of constabulary Wendy Williams – says digitisation is "essential" for the justice system, particularly at a time of funding cuts.
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And while it says "substantial incremental progress" has been made against that goal, it highlights the gaps in the system that still remain.
The watchdog acknowledges that "almost all" of the casework used in magistrates' courts is now transferred digitally between the police and the CPS, and says prosecutors are now updating case records in real time through the use of a new app.
It also says there is "clear leadership and management" of the CPS and HM Courts Service digitisation programmes, and says the police and CPS are using flexible working "to meet work demands with fewer resources".
However, the report says "significant progress" is still needed, with agencies continuing to rely on manual input of some paper documents, including hard-to-read victim and witness statements recorded by the police.
"Despite a significant amount of public funds being invested in digitising the capture and exchange of information, this inspection found that the criminal justice agencies currently still rely partly upon manual processes such as scanning in paper documents and producing hard copies of digital images in order to compensate for the lack of a wholly intuitive digital capability," the report says.
"This has associated wasted cost on all agencies involved, an increased risk of error and undermines the potential benefits that could be realised from full digital working."
And the report points out that agencies' computer systems still "do not directly 'talk' to each other", which it says runs the risk of "wasting resources when material has to be reinput".
No "consistent national overview"
The report also points to a "complex governance landscape", and no "consistent national overview of all agencies' digitisation projects and programmes".
Launching their joint report, McGinty and Williams said that while progress "in establishing a modernised digital criminal justice system has clearly been made", the vision of a "digital end-to-end system, where information is captured once by a police officer responding to a crime and then flows through the system without duplication or reworking, is still some way from becoming reality".
Responding to the watchdogs' findings, a CPS spokesperson said the prosecuting authority had "made a significant contribution, along with the other criminal justice agencies, towards creating and delivering an end-to-end digital justice system".
They added: "The majority of prosecutors and staff are now working digitally, routinely presenting cases using laptops and using the 'Prosecutor App', which enables magistrates' court cases to be updated immediately. There is now Wi-Fi available in almost all courts allowing the CPS and our partners to work digitally.
"We will continue to work with our Criminal Justice partners to create a seamless, modern way of working that benefits victims and witnesses, reduces costs and cuts the time spent preparing cases for court."