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Blockchain technology could help transform criminal justice system, report argues

David Bicknell Published 04 July 2017

Police Foundation and CGI discuss need for digitisation to shake up a justice system beset by changing crimes, archaic practices, spending cuts and inefficient paper-based systems


A joint report by the Police Foundation together with CGI has discussed how digitisation can transform the UK’s criminal justice system and put service users at its heart, delivering better experiences for everyone.

“Reforming justice for the digital age,” outlines the costs and inefficiencies caused by a paper-based system and argues that digitisation, collaborative working practices, and technologies such as intelligent automation and blockchain can help resolve many of the Criminal Justice System’s (CJS) historic challenges.

The report argues that the UK’s largely paper-based justice system remains wedded to archaic practices and legacy IT systems that only results in inefficient services. An example of this is that across the UK’s court system, only half of trials take place on the day they were scheduled to do so, with manual-heavy processes only resulting in unnecessary duplication and increased margins of error.

The report found that:

  • The justice system must reform itself in the face of shifting demands and constrained finances. What were traditional crimes of theft and violence are now being replaced by domestic abuse and cyber- attacks, meaning that the cases themselves are increasing in complexity. And yet, at the same time, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) are all having to implement significant spending cuts.
  • There are significant barriers to reform: digital working currently faces a number of challenges across the CJS, including the need to find new ways to digitise working and share responsibility across, not solely within, justice agencies; a need to improve interoperability of justice systems and communication with legacy infrastructure; and the issue of ensuring staff buy-in, cultural change and the development of digital skills. ?
  • Digitalisation and new technologies, notably blockchain, could improve processes and join up services. The range of technologies and potential applications for the CJS is extensive. The report argues that digital platforms and online portals will empower citizens to reach support services faster, whilst also increasing transparency. At the same time, greater use of automation could improve the speed and quality of completing tasks such as auditing casework, and in the future could even help to address issues such as subjective bias in judicial decision-making.  It believes blockchain technologies could present a unique opportunity to increase accuracy and transparency through secure, auditable distributed records. ?

In terms of the use of blockchain technologies, the report suggests that in the context of the CJS, it is possible that each and every criminal case could be logged and amended using the technology. The benefits include helping provide greater access to information for citizens and reduce duplication. When a record is legitimately updated, for example, changes could be reflected automatically across multiple copies within seconds. This could even be the case when information is being accessed by multiple institutions, which could help address issues of interoperability between justice agencies, as well as improving public access to data.

Blockchains can also allow permissions to be set at different levels creating varying access to stored information, the report argues. This is an essential requirement for new systems when taking into account the sensitivity of criminal justice data.

Liz Crowhurst, the Police Foundation’s policy officer and the report’s author said, “At a time when justice agencies are under pressure to reduce costs, even as the complexity of cases increases, digitisation offers significant opportunities to radically improve services while increasing cost-efficiency and transparency. This, in turn, will deliver improved outcomes for victims, witnesses, defendants and offenders.” ?

Elwyn Jones, vice president, UK Central Government and Justice CGI added, “At CGI, we are using technology to improve outcomes and experiences for our customers and for citizens. In this report, developed with The Police Foundation, we provide a realistic roadmap for change to put users at the heart of the criminal justice system through digital working, collaboration and new technologies such as intelligent process automation.” ?

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