Computers may soon hand out convictions to petty criminals in the UK
The procedure would provide some defendants in certain cases to entirely rely on online services to resolve their cases iStock

Petty criminals in the UK may soon be sentenced and convicted by computers in the near future. The UK Ministry of Justice is set to go ahead with its scheme to urge low-level criminals to plead guilty online.

The UK government reportedly began considering an automated online conviction scheme in 2016. The procedure would provide some defendants in certain cases, to entirely rely on online services to resolve their cases.

"Under this proposal, defendants who opt in to the online procedure and plead guilty will be offered the option to accept a pre-determined penalty (including the payment of any appropriate compensation and costs), be convicted and pay the amount immediately," the Ministry of Justice said in a post-consultation report.

According to the report, the UK government is seeking to trial two categories of criminal offence, including railway and tram fare evasion and unlicensed fishing under the automated online conviction programme. Those who choose to plead guilty online, which will be an optional alternative offered, will automatically be issued a fine and prosecution cost. They will also be automatically ordered to pay up a compensation amount and be made to pay the appropriate victim surcharge, according to a report by the Register.

Around 280 people responded to the consultation about the implementation of the automated online conviction plan, of which 59% agreed and 20% disagreed.

The government noted, "Some respondents who opposed the principle raised concerns around the lack of judicial involvement in the procedure. These respondents suggested that in some cases there might be mitigating circumstances which a judge should take into consideration when setting an appropriate sentence. Similarly, some respondents have raised concerns about 'sentencing by algorithm', the idea that decisions currently made by judges will now be made by computer programs."

The government's response to these concerns was stated thus, "We have considered the responses in full and think it is possible to prosecute low-level cases via an automatic online conviction procedure and impose an automated, standard penalty in these cases without compromising the principles of our justice system.

"The automatic online conviction procedure will contribute to the government's aim of delivering a service that is just, proportionate, accessible to all and works better for everyone," the statement continued, adding that only defendants who choose to plead guilty, offer no mitigating circumstances and who opt into the automated process will be able to be prosecuted in this manner."