A review carried out by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has found that the increased use of video links to allow prisoners to appear in court led to savings of around round €6.3 million from 2015 to 2019.
The figure is contained in a paper written as part of the 2020 spending review process, which was published by Minister Michael McGrath today (5 November).
Video tech in 57 courtrooms
Over the five-year period, the Courts Service spent €5.8 million installing video-conference facilities in 32 courtrooms and replacing obsolete equipment in the Criminal Courts of Justice. This meant that, by the end of 2019, the technology was installed in 57 courtrooms across 27 courthouses around the country.
The review says that the significant increase in remote appearances from prisons in 2020 should result in greater efficiency in this area across the courts system.
Twice as many remote appearances
This year, 7,507 remote appearances in courts by prisoners have already been recorded, double the number made by video link in 2019.
The civil servants write, however, that the Courts Service’s business cases for investment in courtroom technology up to 2019 “varied in quality”.
They say that the courts body will aim to strengthen its examination of proposals to make video-conference technology more widely available, in order to prioritise proposals for investment and gaps in the data as to how equipment is used.
The review says that the Courts Service should compare the cost of fixed-video conferencing units with those of emerging mobile systems. The quality and cost of different types of facilities should be assessed in detail, it says.
“There is a need for reliable systems that satisfy the requirements of court users; however, this must be balanced against finite resources and an apparent increase in the demand for this technology,” the paper says.
It urges the Courts Service to track the reliability of and user satisfaction with, a cheaper video-conference system currently being piloted.
The review notes that the increase in the use of such technology for prisoner appearances was only “modest” before the advent of COVID-19, and that non-prison use of video-conferencing equipment is low relative to the total volume of cases dealt with by the courts system every year.
The Courts Service could further explore how the technology is being used in practice, it says, as well as factors that might hinder uptake by court users.