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U.K.'s oldest court gets high-tech makeover

The Old Bailey gets system for recording hearings, computerized updates and e-mail alerts.

The U.K.'s oldest court has started using computers to record hearings and reduce the time witnesses spend waiting to give evidence.

The Xhibit (eXchanging Hearing Information By Internet Technology) system, now rolled out to 50 Crown courts in England and Wales, allows court clerks to update information about hearings as they happen.

The system enables police, prosecutors and witness groups to get case details in minutes rather than days. Updates can be received by text e-mail or pager, and the public can follow court hearings online or via public display screens in court.

The government said it is getting $6.9 million (3.9 million pounds) per year in benefit from the $35.4 million (20 million pounds) system built by EDS.

Xhibit has an alert function that can alert police officers by SMS when they have to give evidence. Before the system was in place, only 3 percent of police time in court was actually spent giving evidence.

Photo Gallery Constitutional Affairs Minister Harriet Harman said in a statement: "Attending court can be stressful at the best of times. With Xhibit witnesses can, using the latest technology, now be more in touch with the progress on their case."

The government hopes the system will save 80,000 police days a year by reducing the amount of time wasted waiting to give evidence.

The system will also result in the Police National Computer (PNC) being updated faster. The average time to update the PNC with court results was 35 days, but Xhibit reduces that to one or two days.

Rollout of the system is due to be completed by April 2006.

Steve Ranger of Silicon.com reported from London.