Few jurisdictions in the world can match Australia's Northern Territory for sheer size. It’s so vast that before 2020, simply getting evidence to Court frequently involved lugging enormous, heavy suitcases along for 15-hour drives or intra-territory flights. It was a difficult task at the best of times, but one that became impossible when the COVID-19 pandemic forced trialing online.
Executive Project Officer Mark Seiler set out to find a solution that would not only solve the immediate problem of how to handle evidence to be used in the Court of Summary Jurisdiction during the pandemic, but also remedy several frustrations the current system was creating. Seiler had spent several years policing first South Australia and then the Northern Territory, going on to become a lawyer and spending the last seven years working with the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP). As such, he was well-placed to understand the problem from both a pulled-back and a zoomed-in perspective. He’s overseen the increasing digitization of the Northern Territory’s justice system and works closely with Axon to develop the solutions in place today.
The first step was trying to adapt existing tools. As NT police were already using Axon Evidence, the Office of Public Prosecution tried to mold that evidence management system into an electronic brief that could serve throughout the Court processes. But Axon Evidence was designed to facilitate the intake of evidence by police. The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions needed a system for Justice workflows - specifically around disclosure and the preparation of electronic briefs – and struggled to bend Axon Evidence’s law enforcement workflows to meet the needs of prosecution.
The Northern Territory’s established relationship with Axon made it easy to incorporate Justice Premier as a solution in October 2022. The department benefited from many of the platform’s features:
Centralized evidence management: Premier provides a secure, cloud-based hub for all digital evidence, including body-worn video, in-car video, interview room video, CCTV video, photographs, audio and documents.
Accelerated evidence review: Premier powers faster evidence review via unlimited automatic transcriptions, simultaneous video reviews and more.
Easy file sharing: Premier makes it easy to share digital evidence with your team and enables free sharing with outside partners and stakeholders.
Comprehensive evidence tracking: Premier ensures you keep tabs on every piece of digital evidence and automatically tracks chain of custody information so you can be confident that nothing falls through the cracks.
Universal video playback: Premier is compatible with any media format, allowing users to easily view and manage third-party video files.
Justice Premier streamlines the evidence intake process through automation. When officers upload materials to Evidence.com and partner share with the Office of Public Prosecutions, it automatically generates a corresponding brief in Justice Premier and shares that evidence to that brief. That minimizes human error in the process and makes materials instantly available for prosecutors to evaluate and share as necessary.
“We swapped from Evidence.com to Justice Premier, which was fairly seamless, over a weekend,” said Seiler. “The reality is that it’s not a difficult system.” After personally creating documentation and tutorials for the whole Justice Premier process, he advises agencies considering the platform to keep tutorials simple and brief. He also recommends leaning on Axon’s support teams to provide materials and advice during onboarding.
Although the relationship with Axon got Justice Premier over the line as the right tool for the Northern Territory, Axon’s willingness to incorporate feedback played a major role in the decision.
“I’ve certainly dealt with other vendors over the years [who say], ‘Look, here’s the price, and we’ll do an update once a year for you.’” said Seiler.
By contrast, Axon took Seiler’s suggestions for potential improvements to Justice Premier on board and eventually incorporated several. Most recently, those include evidence exhibit numbers for easier reference in the Court process.
Now that Justice Premier is in place, Seiler says the Northern Territory is experiencing massive cost savings. Vast as the territory is – it covers nearly 550,000 square miles – it’s not so densely populated. The 100 or so DPP employees currently using it process 10,000-12,000 cases each year for around 30,000 files, as hard copies must be maintained in triplicate. Seiler estimates Justice Premier has saved the DPP around $50,000 in its first six months on printing costs alone. That number rises when working hours, consumables such as toner, printer service and more are taken into consideration.
The platform has also cut travel costs. In the past, DPP would need to fly employees and physical files to conduct proceedings. That meant paying for extra seats for up to 80 kilos worth of files. Now?
“Instead of doing things like getting a freight company to bring the file up from, say, Alice Springs to Darwin, it’s simple to locate the file in Axon Justice, and utilize the existing Axon Justice file.” That’s a 15-hour drive saved. Multiply the savings on time, fuel, tickets and more by 40 circuits? “That’s huge,” said Seiler.
The fundamental improvement in Seiler’s view is how much faster evidence moves through the system. As soon as police upload a file, prosecutors can track it, identify whether it works or doesn’t and address any problems immediately. Those problems are rarer than ever thanks to Justice Premier’s flexible third-party video player, which streamlines Court proceedings even further by making it easy to play evidence in Court.
Defence also benefit from Justice Premier via a feature called Disclosure Portal which allows defence lawyers to access evidence in the cloud. Nearly all legal aid and private defence lawyers in Darwin are now receiving evidence via Disclosure Portal instead via physical media or other means, dramatically improving efficiency and enabling lawyers to spend more time with their clients instead of focusing on tedious clerical tasks.
Seiler estimates that by year’s end, police prosecutions in the Territory will take place entirely electronically. Not only are the Darwin local and supreme Court interested in moving into the Axon Justice Premier space, but other jurisdictions are also eager to join the ecosystem. “We really are looking down the barrel at one platform from essentially public or citizen, to police, to DPP and the Court,” he said. “It’s moving at lightspeed.”
The Northern Territory’s success with Justice Premier shows the value of a streamlined, intuitive electronic brief. Not only does it secure significant cost savings, but it improves the quality of legal service from evidence intake through the Court process. To learn more about how Justice Premier can serve your agency, contact Axon today.