Court's interactive video to put visitors in picture

Bedlington Magistrates Court is to launch an interactive video service designed to help users be more at ease in the courtroom.

In what is thought to be a first in the UK, the court will provide visitors with an interactive video designed to tell them about how the court works.

The new point-of-information system, launched this week, is aimed primarily at defendants but can be used by any visitor to the court. It is designed to inform court users who may not be highly literate.

The user is guided around the court by a "young, street-wise man with an earring" who tells defendants what will happen to them when they are in court, explaining who is who and who does what. The user is taken through a typical case and can decide whether or not to plead guilty. But the user never learns the verdict because the video aims to avoid being specific.

The video service is in line with Lord Woolf's report on the reform of civil justice, in which he recommends setting up legal information kiosks "to inform and assist the public".

John Burwood, clerk to the justices, said the impetus behind the new development came from court staff and that the idea had been well received by local magistrates.

"The video is designed to give members of the public more information as to what happens when they get through the courtroom doors," he said. "We hope the idea is taken up by other magistrates courts."

The video was produced by multimedia company Interactive Learning Productions. Design and production manager Neil Thurman said: "The hope is that by equipping defendants with more information about what happens in court it will make the legal process quicker and more efficient."