Criminal defence solicitors can improve the speed, security and economy of their communications with the Crown by signing up to a new secure email service

Following the successful introduction of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service secure disclosure website in 2011, the Crown has now arranged for the introduction of CJSM – Criminal Justice Secure eMail – for use by solicitors in Scotland. At present, hard copy mail represents the majority of correspondence sent and received by COPFS. During the early months of 2012, the Strategy and Delivery Division in Crown Office will be engaging with solicitors around Scotland to encourage sign-up to CJSM to allow secure electronic exchange of correspondence, documentation and case-related information.

This will bring a number of advantages to both Crown and defence. It will deliver savings in time, provide an audit trail of items sent and received between the Crown and the defence in each case, and allow both to achieve savings on stationery and postage. It will also become possible to carry out plea negotiation by email. Many solicitors say it can be difficult to discuss possible pleas by phone, as procurator fiscal staff are often unavailable because they are in court when agents call.

Can’t I use my own email account?

In the last few years, email has become the single most popular way for organisations, companies and individuals to communicate with each other. However, as the number of people emailing has increased, so have the risks of having sensitive information stolen by hackers, being inundated with spam, or infiltrated by viruses.

Most people are unaware of what happens when they click the “send” button. Your email message doesn’t just go directly from you to the person to whom you address it. Although email appears instant, each message hops around the public internet, going from system to system until it arrives at its intended destination. On its journey, email is little more than an electronic postcard, open to others along the way. If someone wants to intercept, copy or even alter your emails – and the information in them – they can do that with relative ease.

According to the Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR) Security Breaches Survey 2008, more than 70% of UK businesses suffered a malicious security incident in the last year, ranging from having detected unauthorised outsiders within their network, through being infected by a virus or worm, to having suffered a confidentiality breach.

Within the criminal justice community, the need to exchange sensitive information about forthcoming court cases means that the consequences can be serious if sensitive information falls into the wrong hands. If you work within the criminal justice system as a criminal justice practitioner, you can join this new service that will put an end to the security nightmares potentially caused by viruses, spam and hackers.

What is CJSM ?

Criminal Justice Secure eMail is just that – secure email for those working in criminal justice systems. It is a safe, efficient alternative to regular email, fax and post. When you hit the “send” button on your secure email, the information contained in it is encrypted, so it can only be read by your intended recipient. All the Scottish public service criminal justice organisations such as the police, COPFS and Scottish Court Service already use secure email systems (GSI, GSX and CJX) which are part of the Government Secure Community. That means they can already send and receive sensitive information through these systems securely.

Individual solicitors who sign up for CJSM won’t have to do anything else after that to ensure that sending mail to, or receiving mail from, a public criminal justice organisation in Scotland is secure. CJSM connects directly into – and is accredited by – the Government Secure Community. CJSM secure email technology encrypts the contents of an email when it is sent. This encryption ensures that the email, if intercepted, will be unreadable. Once the email reaches its destination it will be decrypted so that the intended recipient can read it.

CJSM is now available to all legal practitioners working in the criminal justice system in Scotland. It is the only Government-accredited secure route for sending emails to criminal justice organisations, including the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Scottish Courts Service, police, Scottish Prison Service and the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

The Faculty of Advocates has agreed that advocates working in the criminal justice system should be signed up to CJSM, and following a successful trial is implementing a programme of registration for members. CJSM will enable you to share sensitive information with anyone in the criminal justice community, so everyday processes can be handled in a more secure, efficient and cost-effective way. The COPFS secure disclosure website implemented secure electronic download for disclosure material – CJSM provides the means for all other correspondence to be as secure.

How easy is it to get connected?

It can take as little as five minutes to complete the online application procedure for membership of CJSM. You will be asked some basic information about your computer system, so that we can see whether it is compatible with secure email. We will also ask you to read the terms and conditions.

The site also lets you see how the secure mail implementation process works, by looking at the secure mail toolkit on www.cjsm.cjit.gov.uk

The future

COPFS intends moving to a position over the next year or so whereby all disclosure and correspondence with solicitors and members of the Faculty of Advocates relating to criminal cases will be handled electronically.

The Author
John W MacFarlane, Strategy and Delivery Division, Crown Office e: John.MacFarlane@copfs.gsi.gov.uk
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