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Blockchain ‘could resolve UK criminal justice system’s historic challenges’

Blockchain, and other new technologies such as intelligent automation, could offer opportunities to resolve many of the UK criminal justice system’s historic challenges, a new report claims.

The ‘Reforming justice for the digital age‘ report, authored by independent think tank The Police Foundation in partnership with IT outsourcing company CGI, aimed to explore how digitisation would transform the criminal justice system in the UK.

It found that the UK’s justice system remained wedded to archaic practices, paper-based working and legacy IT systems, resulting in inefficient services. For example, across the UK’s court system , only half of trials take place on the day they were scheduled to do so.

The manual-heavy processes result in unnecessary duplication and increased margins of error, it said, and digitisation provided the opportunity to rebuild the processes of the justice system around the citizen.

However, The Police Foundation and CGI said that the justice system needed to reform in the face of shifting demands from traditional crimes like theft and violence to domestic abuse and cyber-attacks. 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 tasked with implementing significant spending cuts – making it even harder for them to investigate increasingly complex crimes.

The authors called for government departments to find new ways to digitise working and share responsibility across, not solely within, justice agencies. Better interoperability of justice systems and communication with legacy infrastructure and the development of digital skills are key areas which need to be addressed, they said.

Meanwhile, the report stated that new technologies such as Blockchain could improve processes and join up services.

“Digital platforms and online portals will empower citizens to reach support services faster, while also increasing transparency,” it said.

“Greater use of automation could improve the speed and quality of completing tasks such as auditing casework and in the future could even help address issues such as subjective bias in judicial decision-making. Blockchain technologies could present a unique opportunity to increase accuracy and transparency through secure, auditable distributed records,” it added.

“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,” said Liz Crowhurst, policy officer at The Police Foundation, and the report’s author.

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