One of the interesting aspects of having a mixed common law practice is the opportunity to observe the differing ways in which the criminal, family, and civil courts deal with the more practical aspect of court life. Over the past few months the Crown Court has ‘gone digital’ with the long awaited, and much discussed, Crown Court Digital Case System (‘DCS’) being adopted by courts across the country. Partnering the DCS is the Professional Court Users WIFI (‘PCU’).
As expected, this ‘revolution’ has not been without hiccup. Judicial digital crèches abound and the one-fingered typist can now be heard proudly punching away in robbing rooms up and down the country over the luncheon adjournment.
I recall a recent PTPH, where the Honourable Judge let out a loud sigh as he disconnected himself from the PCU and thereby the DCS and all the case papers, simply by walking from his chambers to the court room. We all waited, rather awkwardly, while he resorted to the only solution available without the need to consult a manual – turning his laptop off and on again.
Although the DCS operating system itself is bland and resembles something akin to Windows ’95, it is practical and clean-cut. It also appears to be working relatively well – an added bonus.
The family court, by contrast, is rather lackluster when it comes to digitalization. Not only is there no system of digital case management like DCS, there is often a lack of PCU wifi at court and, sometimes, even no 4G *shudders*.
Although we have a practice direction on how to properly entitle an e-mail to the court, this merely pays lip service to the notion of a digital court. E-filing is a great idea. However, when one is at court with no internet and an opponent with only a chewed biro and a notebook for company, it does seem rather far fetched.
It is surprising that the family court is so far behind when it comes to digital working. Although clearly distinct from its criminal counterpart in terms of case management, pre-trial procedure, and a singular prosecuting body, much could be gained from court wifi and some kind of online system for document management and case presentation.
In the current climate of austerity, the court’s limited time and resources must be used in the most efficient way possible. Procedural rules and practice directions do not address the need for a radical overhaul of a paper-heavy system; the family court should not be scared of embracing digitalization.