Scottish courts bought last UK stock of VHS recorders

Picture: Thinkstock
Picture: Thinkstock
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COURT bosses spent £9,000 to buy the last remaining VHS recorders in the UK to allow evidence to be played during trials.

Officials from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service(SCTS) snapped up the final commercial batch of devices on the market after it was announced that production of them would stop.

They had to invest in 30 machines costing £300 each due to problems with playing CCTV evidence during court cases.

Many incidents are captured in VHS format on older privately-owned CCTV systems which can only be played back on video recorders.

Difficulties with playing the images in court can lead to cases being delayed or even abandoned and the courts are trying to implement a system of digitised evidence.

The VHS purchase was revealed by Scotland’s second most senior judge, the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, during a speech to the Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association about planned technological advancements in courts.

She said: “It is well known that one of the major obstacles to efficiency in our criminal justice system is the difficulty of storing and sharing at an early stage the vast array of evidence pertaining to cases.

“Case management works if there is early disclosure of the evidence. But currently the evidence, consisting of witness statements, physical productions, CCTV evidence, phone and computer records and expert reports, can be very hard to assemble, manage and, most importantly, share appropriately.

“We know that there are over 100 different formats in which CCTV evidence can be created, many of which cannot be read easily – if at all - by Police, Crown or Court equipment.

“The Scottish Court Service has just had to invest this year – 2016 - in the last remaining commercial stock in the UK of VHS tape recorders, to allow the playback of evidence in that format!

“A system using digitised evidence should provide access to evidence to those who need it, when they need it, and in a format than can be used easily and efficiently.”

In July, Japanese electronics maker Funai Electric made the world’s last video cassette recorder after announcing they were ceasing production.

A company spokesman said they wanted to continue production to meet customer requests, but could not because key component makers are pulling out due to shrinking demand.

DVDs and home recording boxes from Sky and others have replaced VHS as the popular way to record shows.

There has been an increasing number of cases where evidence cannot be played in court because footage is in the wrong format and the issue has led to complaints from sheriffs and lawyers.

A SCTS spokesman said: “The SCTS maintains and upgrades its courtroom technology capability on a regular basis.

“The courts receive evidence in a wide range of formats in both civil and criminal cases from a range of parties, including evidence which has been captured on VHS format. Often this is from privately-owned CCTV systems.

“The court needs to be able to present evidence in the format in which parties to a case present it, which is usually the format in which it was recorded. Thus if evidence is captured on VHS, the court needs to provide equipment to allow it to be introduced form the original VHSrecording.

“Therefore while we are working towards fuller digital evidence presentation in courts, there remains a need to provide a range of presentation formats so that cases can proceed without delay.

“Recognising that VHS players are no longer produced and that these would soon be unavailable commercially, the SCTS recently secured 30 VHS units through its digital supplier, at a cost of £300 each, to ensure the smooth operation of the courts.