There is huge scope for the use of e-Courtbundles in care proceedings, a solicitor leading a pilot project between Nottinghamshire County Council and Nottinghamshire Family Court has predicted.
The deployment of an e-Courtbundle in a case last month was thought to be the first time the system had been used in live care proceedings in the UK, the local authority said. Such bundles have since been used in two further live proceedings, including a three-day contested hearing requiring witness evidence.
The pilot saw laptops provided for judicial use, with the e-Courtbundle already installed and ready to read, and a monitor for the witness table. The laptops and monitors were in place of lever arch files. The county council said a 400-page e-Courtbundle could “be compiled, fully paginated and indexed within 25 minutes - compared to the four to five hours it takes for a manual court file to be produced”. The authority also suggested than an e-Courtbundle was easier to manage – “clicking on the title of a document takes you straight to it, words are searchable instantly and police interviews - transcripts or audio - can be included”. The documents can be sent instantly via Cryptshare - a plug-in which sits in Outlook - which can make them password protected.
“Magistrates can access the e-Courtbundles from home, instead of having to travel to court to collect them, saving further time and money,” Nottinghamshire CC said. Geoff Russell, the county council solicitor involved, said he believed it was only a matter of time before the e-Courtbundle became a common sight in family courtrooms across the country. He added: "The Family Justice Review identified that technology is pivotal in improving performance, but little guidance has been provided on how it can be achieved. We know that Criminal Courts are moving towards the digital agenda but both the Nottingham Family Court and Nottinghamshire County Council have now successfully conducted three sets of proceedings and more importantly, have devised a way which requires little investment in new equipment, network systems or expensive software. "It was hugely satisfying to hear a judge say to a solicitor complaining about the use of an E-Courtbundle in one of our pilot cases that, 'you had better get used to it, as this appears to the future'."
The county council suggested that there had been positive initial feedback from Magistrates. One is reported to have said: "E-bundles in the Family Court, recently trialled by three Magistrates on a complex and demanding family case, allowed us to concentrate more on the issues of Court than having to wade through pages of text. We found the relevant section in a fraction of the time; precious time that enabled us to the Court and its proceedings. "The digital bundles are easy to manage, even for those with little or no IT experience. We also noticed it was far easier for witnesses, some of whom are unfamiliar with bundles - they just had to look at the appropriate page on the monitor."
Story Courtesy of Local Government Lawyer
Diane Wills is Consultant Social Worker at WillisPalmer, responsible for quality assuring the forensic risk assessment reports.
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