Ministers warned over legal changes allowing defendants allowed to plead guilty online


Ministers warned over ‘trigger happy justice’ changes to legal system that will see defendants allowed to plead guilty online and be sentenced by a computer without setting foot in court

  • The Judicial Review and Courts Bill is  being debated today in the Commons
  • Would see people facing minor offences allowed to enter a plea online
  • Ministers say the change will speed up the court system and save £5m a year
  • Critics say it could lead to miscarriages of justice under a ‘trigger happy’ system










Ministers are under pressure over planned changes to the justice system that could see people plead guilty and be sentenced without setting foot in a court.

Under proposals in the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, which is being debated today, people facing minor offences will be allowed to enter a plea online and have their punishment decided by a computer.

It would initially apply to minor cases like travel fare dodging, but could be then extended to other cases like careless driving and failing to send a child to school, which carry higher fines.

Ministers say the change will speed up the court system, which was facing a massive backlog even before Covid, and save £5million a year.

But critics warned that it could lead to miscarriages of justice under a ‘trigger happy’ system where defendants do not get access to legal advice.

Penelope Gibbs, founder and director of Transform Justice, told the Telegraph: ‘Over-confident, computer-savvy people will be able to incriminate themselves within seconds of getting online, while others will be convicted and fined without ever pleading guilty or not guilty. It’s a recipe for reducing confidence in the criminal justice system’.

Under proposals in the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, which is being debated today, people facing minor offences allowed to enter a plea online and have their punishment decided by a computer.

Under proposals in the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, which is being debated today, people facing minor offences allowed to enter a plea online and have their punishment decided by a computer.

The plans, laid by Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, were also attacked by former minister David Davis today for clamping down on the right of judicial review.

The plans, laid by Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, were also attacked by former minister David Davis today for clamping down on the right of judicial review.

The Tory MP accused ministers of stifling the process after a slew of Government defeats during Brexit.

The Tory MP accused ministers of stifling the process after a slew of Government defeats during Brexit.

In a report last month, Transform Justice pointed out that the online plans were first raised in 2016, and attracted criticism. The new plan ‘reintroduces almost word for word the same digital court reforms’.

‘Some of the proposals have never been subject to public consultation and none are based on research evidence or successful piloting,’ it said.

‘Introducing online pleas will drive a reduction in the proportion of defendants with legal representation, worsening outcomes for unrepresented defendants who will not understand the implications of indicating a plea or pleading online.

‘Efficiencies in the court process will be reduced by online pleas because it removes the chance to identify wrong charges before they get to court and makes it more difficult for defence lawyers to obtain timely disclosure of evidence.

‘Online pleas compromise open justice principles by removing the opportunity for the plea hearing to be witnessed/observed.

‘Children are prone to pleading guilty when innocent or when they have a viable defence, making online plea processes particularly inappropriate for children.’ 

The plans, laid by Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, were also attacked by former minister David Davis today for clamping down on the right of judicial review. 

The Tory MP accused ministers of stifling the process after a slew of Government defeats during Brexit.

‘These are the big, spectacular defeats the government has recently faced. But on a daily basis, judicial reviews against various arms of the government are heard in courts up and down the UK. And often the state finds itself on the losing side of the argument,’ he wrote in the Guardian.

‘The government plans to restrict the use of judicial review in an obvious attempt to avoid accountability. 

‘Such attempts to consolidate power are profoundly un-Conservative and forget that, in a society governed by the rule of law, the government does not always get its way.’

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