Putting Victims and Witnesses First Through Better Digital Evidence Management

Much of the conversation around digital transformation today revolves around operational benefits and alleviating some of the pressure from front-line police officers, who are being bombarded with new forms of evidence. However, what is often missed is the impact on victims, witnesses and wider public confidence. So, it was refreshing to be involved in a conference that places them front and center in the debate.

On 26th September, NICE was invited to participate in Digital Justice Scotland 2018. The event was hosted at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow and was attended by more than 100 senior representatives from organizations including Police Scotland, Scottish Government, Crown Office and Scottish Courts Service. 

Victims​It stands to reason that more evidence should result in more successful prosecutions. However, each piece of evidence needs to be collected, processed, reviewed and shared in a timely manner with the judiciary for the case to be heard. It is a time consuming and costly process for under resourced investigation teams. It is a problem we hear time and time again, however, the financial cost is higher than most might predict. Willie Cowan, Deputy Director, Criminal Justice at the Scottish Governm​​ent suggested that between £40 and £50 million is being lost each year in Scotland alone, through the necessity to process and transport discs and USBs containing important evidence.

Clearly, the eye-watering numbers grab the headlines, but the story of victims and witnesses having their lives placed on hold as cases are delayed in reaching the court, or worse a prosecution is unable to be made, is the true cost. What's more, the disclosure of digital evidence required by the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act, 1996, presents further challenges. Failure to do so has in the recent past, led to the collapse of prosecutions with a hugely detrimental effect on victims and public c​onfid​ence. 

VictimsTo discuss how to resolve the operational, financial and social cost of the digital evidence process, a prestigious panel of experts was con​​vened and chaired by the former First Minister of Scotland, the Right Honourable Henry McLeish. He was joined by David Tonks, Superintendent – Digitally Enable Policing Programme at Police Scotland; David Hamilton, Vice Chair of the Scottish Police Federation; Dr Liz Aston, Associate Professor for Criminology at the Scottish Institute for Policing Research, Edinburgh Napier University and Richard Perkins from NICE.​​

The panel focused on how innovative solutions, such as NICE Investigate, can and are being used by polices forces to improve the investigation process and ultimately create an efficient and effective justice system, where cases are brought to court quicker and judgements can be made faster for the benefit of all parties.

The message was loud and clear that the technology is available and accessible today to drive the digital transformation of the police force. That said, there is currently great disparity across forces and departments, with some relying on the same systems they have been using for the past 10 to 15 years, navigating the siloed 'spaghetti' of systems that demands they enter the same information up to 13 times. Meanwhile, others benefit from cutting edge ICT. 

​There is a sense that a historic lack of investment and strategic planning has resulted in forces, in general, falling behind and that a crossroads has been reached. The good news is that there is a sense of optimism that with the right strategy, technology and training we will soon see some big leaps forward in how forces, the wider judicial system, victims, witnesses and the wider community can all benefit from advances in digital evidence management. ​

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