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Drivers charged with a minor motoring offence in England and Wales will soon be able to make a plea online, through a desktop, tablet or smartphone, instead of making a postal plea or a court appearance.
The ‘Make a Plea’ service will be rolled out across from March following a successful trial in Manchester. During the trial about 1,200 people - or a third of applicable defendants - used the website to enter a plea. It’s all part of a government bid to modernise the legal system and save money. It will also lessen the workload of police and courts, allowing them to focus on more complex cases.
Sitting on the offence
Minor motoring offences accounted for 500,000 court appearances last year. The high volumes take up huge amounts of court time and can clog up the system. Often the offender decides not to appear, choosing instead to plead guilty by post or allow the case to be heard in their absence. Shailesh Vara, courts minister, says: “Digital technology gives us an opportunity to make the justice system simpler, clearer and faster. Part of this means reducing or removing the unnecessary movement of paper, and people, around the system.”
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Pleas please me
So how does the Make a Plea Service work? If you are charged with a minor motoring offence, such as speeding or driving without insurance, you can now make a plea online. In other words, you don’t have to bother with the paperwork of a postal plea, or appear in court. The new digital system allows defendants to make their plea from any device, 24-hours-a-day, through a secure website – and they still get maximum credit for early guilty pleas. Defendants can also see their case details online and view the evidence before indicating their plea of guilty or not guilty.
The service has been developed with court users, and the Ministry of Justice claims that identifying and concluding guilty plea cases earlier will save time, work and money for taxpayers, motorists and court staff. The Make a Plea service will initially apply only to motoring offences but it could eventually be extended to other low-level offences as part of the government’s plan to modernise the justice system. The coalition is investing £160 million in digital technology for courtrooms including video links, wi-fi and improved IT systems to end the system’s reliance on paper.