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UK lawyers 'should go digital'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 22/02/13

People in UK lawyer jobs have been told to put away their notepad, drop that Bic and thrust themselves boldly into the digital age, after justice minister Damian Green slammed the court delays created by the current legal system and suggested that major changes will be needed over the coming years if Britain is to keep pace with its international counterparts.

According to Mr Green, one solution to overhauling the creaking legal aid system could see a single digital case file created and shared throughout the sector, streamlining existing processes and cutting costs as well as the amount of time involved to access it.

While lawyers may wish to keep hold of their vintage fountain pens and antique writing desks, the reality is that the legal world, along with the public sector, is being pushed towards a digital future in which Google controls 90 per cent of our data and looms over the world as a benevolent, faceless overlord.

Mr Green said: "The aim for the criminal justice system must be a single case file that progresses electronically right through the system, from police to court and then prison or probation, without constant re-keying of information."

He stressed that the UK has got a great deal to be proud of when it comes to its justice system, which he described as one of the best in the world, but nevertheless indicated that it has so far failed to exploit the technological opportunities available to it.

According to the justice minister, not using options such as live-links allowing defendants to appear in court from their cell is leading to a lack of efficiency throughout the legal sector. Fundamentally, the reforms he proposes also have a financial element to them.

"Whatever the financial situation we should be reforming to deliver a better service. But the reduction in public spending today is a spur to greater action; an opportunity for a radical rethink of the way the criminal justice system performs its core functions," Mr Green explained.

Although lawyers may be undoing their tie and mopping their brow at the prospect of being replaced by legally-trained robots - they wouldn't need to eat, sleep, or spend years at law school - there is no doubt that technology is going to infiltrate the justice system to a far greater degree in the next few years.

Last year, Nigel Boardman of Slaughter and May suggested in a Financial Times article that many other countries have moved ahead of the UK in simplifying their legal processes. If Britain is to retain its high reputation for law, it must move with the times.