If you needed proof that the police service is 10 years behind the rest of society when it comes to modern technology, walk into the File Quality Room at Blandmore Police Station. The need for an entire department to quality-assure and build case files was identified a few years ago as part of Blandshire Constabulary's move over to a specialist structure. The pettiest of shopliftings can generate a case file 30 pages long, hence the FQR is stuffed to the brim with exploding cardboard boxes full of paper.
Likewise my inbox is some days inundated with polite requests that if I see such-and-such vital important prosecution file relating to so-and-so hardened criminal, could I please ensure it finds its way to court before he is released due to its loss. Before my readers jump up and down, don't worry, these lost files are not being left on trains or being stolen from car boots, but are actually safe within the walls of a police station somewhere in Blandshire. We just don't know which one.
Well if the police service is ten years behind, the Criminal Justice System is another twenty. Here the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) announces they are hoping to trial something called "computer" to manage their case files. This mysterious technological device will remove the need for erstwhile young barristers to traverse the seven floors of Blandmore Crown Court clutching copies of files totalling hundreds of pages.
Electronic case file management actually arrived some years ago. But we couldn't use it because none of our computer systems will talk to each other, let alone the CPS or the Court. If the Court even has a computer system. It has taken five years for DVD technology to be playable in court - we were copying high quality CCTV footage onto VHS tapes a decade after the rest of the population were buying Blu-Ray machines. We still cannot take photos of crucial evidence before it disappears using a mobile phone because apparently we might be accused of fabricating or modifying the picture, and will have to hand over our mobiles as evidence to prove we have not.
Anyway, I welcome the arrival of "computer" in the courts with bated breath and wonder how long it will take before we learn how to lose electronic case files too. And at what point will a canny defence lawyer demand the main server at Blandshire Constabulary Headquarters is seized to prove that the police evidence was modified since its creation?
The problem is, as long as judges in white wigs believe that the pen-generated word is somehow more reliable than that appearing on a screen, witness statements will still have to be hand-written. And if you have to handle paper statements, you may as well print everything else out too.
And there's the biggest downside of moving over to electronic files: if something is on a database, it's easy to monitor. If it's easy to monitor, by the law of police bureaucracy, it MUST be monitored. If it's monitored, it equals performance. And if it's performance, it will grow.
Bring on the Twenty-First Century.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.