Plead guilty from a computer

The Neighbourhood Justice Centre is piloting an Online Guilty Plea digital service to reduce the backlog of matters the Magistrates' Court of Victoria deals with every year.

Context

Victoria's Magistrates' Courts hear thousands of low-level summary matters, such as minor traffic and public transport offences, which typically result in the court issuing fines.

It is estimated that around 25% of Magistrates' Court matters heard each year fall into this category.

For citizens, having to appear before a court costs time and additional expenses. People are required to take time off work, and can spend many hours waiting as courts handle more complex matters.

For courts, processing costs often outweighs the fine imposed, and the volume alone is a drain on already overstretched resources.

In response, we introduced a new digital service for citizens to plead guilty online for a selected range of low-level summary offences.

The system mirrors an existing (but little known) right to submit a written guilty plea to the court for such offences. 

Introduced in 2017, Online Guilty Plea is inspired by a similar system used in Queensland courts. [1].

How it works

The citizen completes the Plead Guilty form online using information provided in the summons pack that will have arrived by post. The form is received by our court Registry and processed.

Our court retains the option to reject the plea and schedule a hearing, but in most cases the matter is concluded promptly with a fine issued.

Benefits

  • Citizen are relieved of time at court, and money spent attending to a minor matter 
  • Police are relieved of attending court 
  • Registry improve processing time, reallocates resource 
  • Court can schedule hearings to 'off peak' periods 
  • Systems wide advantages: Frees up resources for complex matters (this alone addresses the Royal  Commission into Family Violence recommendation 62)
  • Contribute to the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria’s objective to provide digital services, including migrating a portion of low-complexity, low-needs cases to digital channels.

User-centred design and development

Software was developed using ‘Agile' methodology (cross-functional team collaboration) and user experience design principles.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet's Innovation Fund enabled the NJC to engage  Code for Australia, a not-for-profit digital innovation organisation, to design the prototypes.