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Leveson Calls for Online Sentencing and Fines

By Michael Cross » Low-level offenders pleading guilty could be sentenced automatically and pay their fines online by credit card under the latest proposals by the head of the Queen’s Bench Division to speed up criminal justice through IT. Sir Brian Leveson’s efficiency report in January said that online hearings could replace physical court appearances in many low-level cases. In a speech to the Modernising Justice through Technology conference last week he took the idea further, suggesting that traffic offence-style online guilty pleas could be used more widely. ‘It should be possible to use recognised sentencing guidelines to identify a prospective sentence which the person who has just pleaded guilty can accept if he or she chooses to do so, having entered their outgoings and income (which may well be crosschecked), with the right to a hearing being reserved for those who ask for it, perhaps because they have particular mitigation.’ After receiving their sentence, ‘defendants will be able to enter their credit card details and it will all be over, in one visit, as quickly as paying the parking fine, the road-fund licence or all the other transactions that we are now used to performing online,’ Leveson said. ‘A very large bulk of standard, lowlevel work which is presently very expensive to process may be resolved without a formal court appearance or hearing.’ Leveson called for the comprehensive adoption of computer technology rather than ‘salami-slicing’ cuts. This would create ‘a brand new justice system that will meet – it may even exceed – the expectations of the public and the litigants, and which is likely to save the government very substantial amounts of money’. However he warned of ‘elephant traps’, including the unwillingness of ‘some of my colleagues’ to move away from paper files, and the poor track record of major IT projects. One group that would need help adjusting to the new world is litigants in person, who, he said, are ‘not infrequently seen carrying around a large pile of dog-eared papers, that are festooned with Post-it notes and indecipherable scribblings’. To assist them ‘[there] will have to be an excellent front-of-house service’ backed up by the voluntary sector, he said. [Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette]