Last week we expressed excitement at the plans for courtrooms to go digital next year, but now it seems the law firms are not on board.

In a letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the 30 largest law firms, accounting for over 10% of the criminal legal aid budget, this week gave notice that they will not take part in the scheme until concerns over costs and workability have been addressed. ‘We have drawn the line,’ one signatory said.

The Law Society has also written to the CPS, asking for action to resolve issues raised by defence solicitors.

The CPS’s Transforming Through Technology (T3) project is part of a wider programme to computerise the criminal justice system. The CPS says that it will save £50m by 2014/15 by replacing all paper documents with electronic communications.

But defence solicitors say not enough progress has been made to ensure that information shared digitally is accessible to them and their clients. They also want grants to cover their costs.

Concerns include the lack of wireless access and power points in courts, the difficulty of taking computers and mobile communication devices into prisons and police cells, and problems over the use of secure email and cloud-based systems through which emails are routed.

Solicitors say that the change will simply transfer costs from the CPS to the defence. In its letter, the group says: ‘We are happy to assist in changes which generate efficiencies, but see no reason why the costs should be borne by us, while we enjoy no corresponding reward.’

Franklin Sinclair, partner at national firm Tuckers, said: ‘The CPS is going to save £50m through T3, which is good, but we need our costs met or we cannot co-operate.’

Ian Boddy, senior partner at national firm The Johnson Partnership, said: ‘At a time when we’re being beaten up and fees further cut, they expect us to fund computers for a system that we don’t even know will work. We have drawn the line.’

Richard Atkinson, chair of the Law Society’s criminal law committee, said: ‘We’ve been raising these issues for months and while we have got a lot of “understanding”, so far no progress has been made to resolve them.’

A CPS spokeswoman said the prosecutor is not responsible for the full impact of the changes on the defence, but recognises that there are implications for the defence and is working to resolve any issues so that it can engage ‘on an equal footing’.

The director of the CPS’s efficiency programme, David Jones, said: ‘In terms of working directly with the CPS, the task for law firms is to ensure that they can receive digital case files by joining the secure email network. This is free for any registered criminal legal practice that has a computer with internet access.’

He said the proposed repository for transfer of information between all criminal justice system partners, and software to bundle digital case files for e-transfer, are being made freely available.

The question of potential grants was not a matter for the CPS, he added.

Source: Law Society Gazette Image credit: quinn.anya