This post is part of a series on innovating the bar. Read the full collection here.
When asked to contribute a piece about the digitisation of the Courts my immediate thought was: where to start? E-books, paperless trials, CJSM, PCU, Wifi, and so on. It is such a wide topic. Similarly, when asked “how is this all going in practice?” I suspect any practitioner will come up with both success and horror stories. Certainly there are some losers to the new digital legal world: DX and courier companies, chiropractors and osteopaths spring to mind, but generally, things are positive, are they not? Of course there are benefits of digitisation over and above the physical changes (e.g. not having to lug papers and texts to Court) meaning that practitioners are increasingly travelling light, arriving at Court with a backpack rather than trolleys and suitcases. However, are we using the new methods of working to their full potential?
Practitioners are increasingly travelling light, arriving at Court with a backpack rather than trolleys and suitcases
I do not profess to be anything other than a criminal practitioner, out and about on the Circuit outside London, yet if my experiences of digitisation are anything to go by, many are missing a trick or two. I don’t mean just the search facility that inevitably comes with digital papers, whether that is searching within a digital case within CCDCS via the Find Tab, or by downloading the whole or part of the bundle into a PDF application and using CMD/CTRL F, but rather using the digitisation of the papers itself.
Go into any Crown Court and what do you see on Counsels’ Rows? Spare screens. Who has used one?
Go into any Crown Court and what do you see on Counsels’ Rows? Spare screens. Who has used one? No doubt in part this is because (a) these have been cable-tied and are immovable (though generally HMCTS staff will help move these), and (b) the connectors require adapters, especially for Mac users. I also have my concerns about anything on these screens being seen by the jury, the public, co-accused, and so on. However this overlooks the value of a second screen.
Whilst the mirroring of information has some use, the second screen really comes into its own with extended display. For the uninitiated this means having different information on two screens, and being able to move seamlessly between them. You don’t have to be a tech whizz either to set this up. Type “extended display” into your internet search engine, and you will see what I mean.
My preparation of documents for court has been revolutionised and many hours have been saved in even the short time I’ve been working this way
So what is the benefit in practice? For a start, you can have the Digital Case open, whether that is the web page, or my preference is to download the specific sections into a PDF application, on one screen, with a word processor application open on the other. Read from the papers and type/make notes at the same time without having to try and flit between two or more screens on one device. The real benefit, however, comes when working with the digital case. Take the preparation of documents: case summaries, openings, and so on. In the old paper days one would have to sit down, reading from the hard copy and typing that up. No longer is this the case. With extended display it’s as simple as cutting from a document on one screen and pasting it into the word processing document on another. Other professions have been doing this for years: have we? You don’t even need to buy an expensive new screen and adapters, though I suspect that many have an old monitor lying around. My preference is using an iPad and connecting it to my computer via a particular application that is available for both Mac and Windows computers. My preparation of documents for Court has been revolutionised and many hours have been saved in even the short while I’ve been working this way.