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Independent Evaluation of Video Enabled Justice

MA responds to the final report

05 May 2020
Independent Evaluation of Video Enabled Justice

We welcome the timely publication of the independent evaluation into a web-based software program, which was being piloted as a new technological tool to facilitate appointments for first appearance remand hearings for defendants who were accessing the hearing from police custody using video-link. It is especially pertinent that as well as evaluating the performance of this tool, the final report also compares some aspects of video hearings with those where the defendants attend court in person.

Although the evaluation only found a possible efficiency gain and a modest positive effect on the listing process, it is likely to be invaluable to have the booking tool available during the current coronavirus crisis. Indeed, quotes on the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Website indicate it has been welcomed by various parties in allowing the enforcement of strict social distancing while ensuring cases are progressed by managing remand hearings.

However, we note a number of worrying findings in relation to the use of video-link for hearings, when compared to traditional in-court appearances by defendants. These include the evidence that use of video has the following effects:

  • more challenging for the demeanour of the defendant to be assessed;
  • more difficult for defence advocates to build rapport with their clients; 
  • loss of courtroom formalities, possibly exacerbating the sense of distancing experienced from the process;
  • more common to have disruptions due to the defendant;
  • increased rate of adjournments in video court hearings;
  • The use of custodial sentences was more likely to be recorded in video court hearings, although this was mitigated by the use of the online booking tool, possibly due to the assurance that all necessary documentation was in place before the hearing.


These are important findings that should be taken into account when decisions are being made about the viability of using video-link when it is no longer a necessity due to coronavirus.

The evaluation also found that defendants were less likely to be legally represented when attending by video-link, which is concerning. We suggest remand hearings should not be listed unless a defendant has had the opportunity to seek advice from a defence lawyer.

The final report also highlights the importance of sufficient resource being available to improve existing audio-visual equipment, and the need for all staff to have training on the use of technology. Again, these recommendations should be taken into account before there is a permanent increase in the use of video-link. 

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