The High Court in Manchester is running a pilot scheme that allows solicitors to enter their clients' pleas by email.
The trial, which was officially launched today, is the first of its kind in the UK. It aims to reduce the number of times a defendant has to appear in court by allowing lawyers and court officials to work out the timetable and proceedings of a case without the need for personal appearances in court.
A spokemsman for the Lord Chancellor's Department told vnunet.com: "The pilot scheme will last for three months and deals with the procedural aspects of a case, including entering the defendant's plea and working out a timetable for when a case should go to trial and how."
All the transactions are conducted via a secure internet website and the scheme is restricted to court officials and the legal profession.
In principle, all types of cases can be included unless there are complex issues involved.
Procedural hearings usually take up the equivalent of three full court days per week, with the daily cost of the use of a courtroom being £10,000-£12,000.
Evaluation of the project will take place in March 2003.
This is not the first time new technology has been used for recent court cases. Lord Falconer, Home Office minister of state for Criminal Justice, Sentencing and Law Reform, said: "The government has embarked on a radical programme of reform of the criminal justice system".
This started in April when the Lord Chancellor's Office announced plans for a series of hi-tech courts. A courtroom in Kingston upon Thames was the first to use technology to view witness statements and internet pages electronically.
But UK courts have not yet gone as far as some in the US where, in some states, courts have opened up the technology to individuals as well as lawyers to enter a guilty or not guilty plea by email in the case of minor offences.
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