Online pleas for minor offences top one million

As part of wider reform programme, digitisation initiative was implemented six years ago and justice secretary claims that service benefits defendants, courts workers and ‘ultimately strengthens the rule of law’

More than a million people have now used a digital service to enter their plea after being charged with motoring offences.

The online tool was first implemented six years ago as part of a wider £1bn-plus reform programme being led by HM Courts and Tribunal Service. The service allows those charged with “non-imprisonable motoring offences such as speeding or having no insurance” to submit their plea online.

Those pleading guilty are unlikely to be required to attend court, unless they wish to do so, as most such cases are handled by a lone magistrate, supported by a legal adviser.

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Before the introduction of the digital system, entering a plea for minor motoring offences required a form to be filled out to the person being charged – to be filled out and sent back to the courts to be processed.

HMCTS claimed that the launch of the online services “means cases are now dealt with more efficiently, saving the defendant from a slow postal process or even an often-stressful court visit, and freeing up court staff time to deal with more serious offences”.

Secretary of state for justice Alex Chalk added: “This is a great example of the changes we are making to modernise the justice system. Making our justice system more straight forward for users drives efficiency, cuts down on red tape for staff and ultimately strengthens the rule of law.”

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee recently published a damning report on the progress of the multi-year moderinisation initiative, finding that the programme has less then 10% of its £1.3bn budget left, with only half or reform projects completed.

“[There] are services crying out for critical reform, but frustratingly HM Courts and Tribunals Service’s attempts appear in some cases to be actively hindering its own staff’s ability to carry out their jobs,” said PAC chair Meg Hillier. “In particular, the rollout of the Common Platform digital system was a blow upon a bruise for pressured court users.”

Sam Trendall

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