Belfast Telegraph

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Criminals to plead guilty online as justice system goes digital

'This procedure will therefore only apply to cases which already generally require minimum involvement from magistrates'

The government is to press ahead with plans to enable petty criminals to plead guilty online and receive a sentence through a computer.

A report from the Ministry of Justice has called for the system to be tested with non-prisonable offences, such as tram fare evasion, railway fare evasion and possession of an unlicensed road and line.

“Under this proposal, defendants who opt in to the online procedure and plead guilty will be offered the option to accept a pre-determined penalty (including the payment of any appropriate compensation and costs), be convicted and pay the amount immediately,” it reads.

Criminals won’t actually be convicted by a computer algorithm.

As the report explains, “This procedure will therefore only apply to cases which already generally require minimum involvement from magistrates and would otherwise be decided by a single magistrate on the papers without the need for a court hearing through the Single Justice Procedure (SJP).

“We consider that it is in the interests of all court users to have clear-cut, wholly uncontested cases dealt with without any unnecessary delay, thus allowing magistrates more time to consider more complex cases.”

The Ministry of Justice says defendants will need to enter personal data – such as their date of birth, prosecution Unique Reference Number and National Insurance Number – to confirm their identity, and says the system will be "designed to the highest standards of digital security".

It's also stressed that the online system is entirely voluntary, with defendants who opt out able to have their case dealt with via the SJP or heard in court instead.

Independent News Service