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Tuesday, 27 March, 2001, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Court pleas by cyberspace

A 500,000 hi-tech court where defendants can e-mail judges with their 'not guilty' pleas have been unveiled.

Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court, in west London, has become the first court in the UK to launch the 'virtual reality' hearings.

The cyberspace pleas are designed to save time and money as defendants will not always need to attend a preliminary hearing.

Within four years the aim is to extend the system to 78 crown courts across England and Wales.

A further 20 pilot centres will be involved in testing the new courtroom technology.

The level of technology in the average courtroom is nil

Lord Chancellor's Department spokeswoman

A spokeswoman for the Lord Chancellor's Department told BBC News Online there was an urgent need to bring the courts into the 21st century.

"The level of technology in the average courtroom is nil.

"This is about seeing how technology can improve justice," she said.

Courtroom computers

Plans include computer screens in court for everyone involved in a case, from jurors to judges, to view the evidence.

The spokeswoman said: "Some of the technology is as simple as voice enhancement microphones.

"In rape cases for example, where you have a victim giving evidence, it is needlessly stressful when they are asked to speak up."

Court Room 8 at Kingston-upon-Thames complete with digital recording equipment, computers for storing evidence and microphones was unveiled on Tuesday.

The 'virtual' plea and directions hearings, which occur before a case goes to trial, will allow defendants' lawyers and prosecutors to present evidence to a judge by e-mail instead of having to attend.

The Lord Chancellor's Department said this option would be available where there was general agreement on the direction the case would follow.

Video evidence

The new technology will also allow witnesses to give video evidence.

Screens outside the courtroom will chart a case's progress and list cases in other courts.

And verdicts could eventually be flashed up on the screens.

Electronic kiosks in the court building will give out information on subjects ranging from jury service to court code of conduct.

The courts taking part in the pilot projects are:

  • Preston Combined Court Centre
  • Manchester Crown Court, Minshull Street Case progression
  • Manchester Crown Court (Crown Square)
  • Liverpool Combined Court Centre
  • Newcastle upon Tyne Combined Court Centre
  • Kingston upon Hull Combined Court Centre
  • Doncaster Crown Court
  • Leeds Combined Court Centre
  • Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court
  • Luton Crown Court
  • Snaresbrook Crown Court
  • Blackfriars Crown Court
  • Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey)
  • Southwark Crown Court
  • Midland & Oxford Circuit
  • Leicester Crown Court
  • Birmingham Crown Court
  • Chester Crown Court
  • Swansea Crown Court
  • Bournemouth Crown Court
  • Bristol Crown Court

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    27 Dec 00 | UK
    Court TV plans denied
    31 Dec 99 | Guide to the UK Government
    Lord Chancellor's Department
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