UK: Pleading guilty online leads to fears over open justice

Guilty by email leads to fears over open justice

By Martin Evans, crime correspondent  26 DECEMBER 2016 • 11:45PM

Proposals allowing people to plead guilty to minor offences online could erode the principle of open justice, campaigners have warned.

Changes to the Prisons and Court Reform Bill could see up to 900,000 people who are charged with offences such as fare dodging and traffic violations, circumvent the courts system by pleading guilty remotely.

They would also be able to accept the conviction and pay the fine, all at the touch of a button.

The idea is to save money, streamline the system and free up magistrates courts to deal with more serious offences.

But critics fear the proposals could be the thin end of the wedge and could seriously erode the principle of justice needing to be seen to be done.

The Magistrates' Association has warned that a shift away from legal hearing taking place in open court in from of the judiciary may be "unpalatable for many people" and could "lower confidence in the criminal justice system".

Malcolm Richardson, who chairs the association said: "We are concerned about the principle of handling entire criminal cases without the involvement of independent judicial decision makers.

"A core principle of our system is that justice is seen to be done and we don't see how clicking a button and staring at a computer screen with no judicial involvement represents that."

The proposals would initially only cover minor motoring offences, fare dodging and fishing without a licence, but if successful the system could be rolled out to also include TV licence evasion and fly-tipping.


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