Courts claim success for ‘digital sentencing’ of fare dodgers

Courts Service says pilot with Transport for London has led to faster processing times and more pleas than for paper based process

HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has claimed that the pilot of a ‘digital sentencing’ system for fare dodgers has shown it can speed up the process and make it possible to handle more cases in a set period.

Judge's gavel on computer keyboardThis follows a trial of the system, in which all of the prosecution’s evidence is submitted electronically to the court, in partnership with Transport for London (TfL) at Lavender Hill Magistrates’ Court.

It has enabled TfL to move from manually processing and delivering papers to the court, and magistrates and legal advisors to consider the evidence on a laptop.

It has made it possible to deal with court hearings for those who plead guilty within a week of the plea being received; in contrast to around a month of waiting for a scheduled session under the paper based process.

The service also claimed there is evidence showing that offering people the chance to plead online in these kinds of cases leads to more responding than when asked for pleas on paper.

HMCTS said that since the trial began in April, about 4,200 cases have been considered through the system and more 3,000 tube and bus fare dodgers have been sentenced.

It added that under the new system, TfL will be able to prosecute some 18,000 commuter crimes a year in the capital. The process will mostly replace letters and court hearings where the person does not turn up, not physical court appearances.

Streamlining process

Siwan Hayward, TfL’s head of transport policing, said: “We use the courts to tackle the minority of people who purposefully avoid paying their fares, licensed drivers and private hire operators who break the law, and companies who obstruct the pavements and streets.

“That’s why we have worked with HMCTS to streamline what has historically been a labour intensive, paper heavy process. The real time aspect of the system results in court notices being issued within weeks of an offence and prosecutions are concluded sooner so individuals and businesses receive a faster resolution.

“The new system enables our Investigations and Prosecutions team more time to target illegal behaviour and bring those who break the law to justice.”

Justice Minister Dominic Raab pointed to the trial as an example of what could be achieved through the digital reform of the courts process.

There are now plans to speed up the process for those guilty pleas that can be fast tracked, and eventually for an online system to replace the paper based system. This will be offered to other large public service organisations responsible for court prosecutions.

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