New ways of working being pioneered by Nottinghamshire County Council and Nottinghamshire Family Court could revolutionise the way papers are prepared and presented at hearings across the country.
It is thought that the use of an E-Courtbundle for a case in Nottinghamshire last month was the first time the system has been used in live care proceedings in the UK.
E-Courtbundles have been used in two further live proceedings in the county since, including a three-day contested hearing requiring witness evidence.
The pilot has seen laptops provided for Judicial use, with the E-Courtbundle already installed and ready to read, and a monitor for the witness table.
The laptops and monitors are in place of cumbersome lever arch files which are more difficult to handle and painstaking to compile.
A 400-page E-Courtbundle can be compiled, fully paginated and indexed within 25 minutes - compared to the four to five hours it takes for a manual court file to be produced.
The E-Courtbundle is also easier to manage - clicking on the title of a document takes you straight to it, words are searchable instantly and police interviews - transcripts or audio - can be included.
The documents can be sent instantly via Cryptshare - a plug-in which sits in Outlook - which can make them password protected. Magistrates can access the E-Courtbundles from home, instead of having to travel to court to collect them, saving further time and money.
Geoff Russell, the Nottinghamshire County Council Solicitor who is leading the project, believes its only a matter of time before the E-Courtbundle becomes a common site in courtrooms across the country.
Geoff said: “The Family Justice Review identified that technology is pivotal in improving performance, but little guidance has been provided on how it can be achieved.
“We know that Criminal Courts are moving towards the digital agenda but both the Nottingham Family Court and Nottinghamshire County Council have now successfully conducted three sets of proceedings and more importantly, has devised a way which requires little investment in new equipment, network systems or expensive software.
“It was hugely satisfying to hear a Judge say to a Solicitor complaining about the use of an E-Courtbundle in one of our pilot cases that, ‘you had better get used to it, as this appears to the future’.”
The use of E-Courtbundles has been welcomed by the Judiciary and Magistrates in Nottinghamshire.
There has been positive initial feedback from Magistrates, with one commenting: “E-bundles in the Family Court, recently trialled by three Magistrates on a complex and demanding family case, allowed us to concentrate more on the issues of Court than having to wade through pages of text. We found the relevant section in a fraction of the time; precious time that enabled us to the Court and its proceedings.
“The digital bundles are easy to manage, even for those with little or no IT experience. We also noticed it was far easier for witnesses, some of whom are unfamiliar with bundles - they just had to look at the appropriate page on the monitor.”
From installing energy-saving LED street lights and solar-powered buildings to helping social workers support more vulnerable people by giving them tablet computers so they can work on the move, Nottinghamshire County Council is embracing a greater use of technology across all its services to improve efficiency and save money.
The more costs can be cut to processes, the greater protection can be provided to frontline services as budgets are hit by Government austerity.