A £500,000 hi-tech courtroom of the future has been unveiled at Kingston upon Thames Crown Court as the Court Service prepares for the modernisation of all 78 Crown Court centres in England and Wales by 2005.
The modernisation programme, which will cost £94m, is intended to speed up justice, improve efficiency and provide better treatment for victims, witnesses and jurors.
The Kingston courtroom will be used to test a whole range of technological advances, while an additional 20 court centres around the country will be piloting other new technology and techniques.
Speaking at the launch of the new court room David Lock, a Minister in the Lord Chancellor's Department, said: "We are now ready to test our ideas for change, and Kingston Crown Court centre, along with an additional 20 pilot courts, is central to this.
"The end result will be a modernised Crown Court fit for the 21st Century. One that not only makes the best use of technology, but also offers the level of service that the public and court users have a right to expect."
Victims and witnesses could soon be able to take a 'virtual tour' of the courtroom and familiarise themselves with the court procedures electronically if a new system due to be piloted at Ipswich Crown Court is successful.
Ross Taylor, Ipswich Crown Court Manager, said the initiative was aimed at improving the service for victims and witnesses as well as reducing the timing difficulties and costs associated with familiarisation visits to courtrooms.
"We are hoping to go live soon with the virtual tour on the internet.
On the evening of January 23, 2019, 17-year-old twins Emma and Beckie Harper left their home in Cheltenham, having been invited out to a party.
It was the last time that Steve and Vicky Harper saw their girls alive.
Their remains were discovered at the scene of a barn fire the following day. Every parent's nightmare had come true.
But for the Harpers, worse was to follow. Having thought the twins had died as the result of an accidental blaze, it became clear that the fire was suspicious. Three young men had escaped the blaze unhurt; they admitted being at the barn with Emma and Beckie, and were charged with murder, arson, and perverting the course of justice. But as the case unfolded, the charges were reduced to manslaughter; two were discharged, while the third was acquitted when the case reached court in November 1992.
Keith Potter talks to Vicky Harper, mother of Beckie and Emma, and author of Double Take, the story of her fight for justice.
(c) Victim Support