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Drink-drivers face 'virtual court'

Drink-drivers caught over the limit in the run-up to Christmas could lose their licence within 90 minutes of being charged using "virtual court" technology.

Senior police chiefs issued the warning as they launched their annual drink and drug-driving crackdown on Thursday.

Kent Police said they will be using video links between stations and courts to help mete out swifter punishment to motorists found under the influence.

If they plead or are found guilty at the first hearing, then the magistrate could take away their driving licence immediately, meaning they could be banned on the day they are charged.

Deputy Chief Constable Alan Pughsley said: "Usually, motorists will be charged with drink-driving and be bailed to appear before the court some weeks later.

"This means until a guilty verdict is reached, they are free to drive. The use of the virtual court system means that the defendant risks losing their licence on the day of charge."

Virtual courts were trialled last year as part of the drink-drive campaign season, resulting in 17 people appearing before a magistrate via the video link-up in Kent. A police spokesman said that in one case a motorist was banned from driving less than 90 minutes after being charged.

Virtual courts have been used by Kent Police since August 2009. Medway and Folkestone magistrates' courts use the system and Canterbury will do in the future.

The judge, bench, court officer, prosecutors and probation are located at the court and the defence solicitor can be at either location.

More than 1,400 people have appeared via the system in Kent, which officers say has helped save more than 100 hours of police time.

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