Virtual courts will help bring offenders to justice more swiftly across Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, and Hertfordshire.

The chief constables and police and crime commissioners for the three police forces have agreed to recruit staff to run the virtual courts at police stations across the three counties.

Virtual courts have been operating in Hertfordshire since 2012 and so the move, agreed at a summit between the forces, will see Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire follow suit.

The introduction of virtual courts is part of a move nationally to use video-enabled justice, which allows defendants to attend their first magistrates' court hearing via a video link.

It is expected to save the three forces thousands of pounds every year, as well as save police officers time by enabling them to make court applications without having to travel or spend time waiting.

This time, the police commissioners hope, can be re-invested into frontline policing.

The expansion of virtual courts across Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire is also expected to help increase the number of early guilty pleas.

In Hertfordshire the number of early guilty pleas has increased in cases where this new technology is being used.

The proposal is now subject to staff consultation and, if confirmed, would see this area of police operaton join typing services, tape libraries and criminal justice policy and performance, which the three forces collaborated on earlier this year.

The decision was also taken to delay any structural changes in relation to collaboration of public contact, which includes the three force control rooms and crime recording teams, for at least two years.

Councillor Jason Ablewhite, police and crime commissioner for Cambridgeshire, said: "The introduction of virtual courts will free up valuable police time and resources and ensure crimes are dealt with both quickly and efficiently. This will not only benefit our police forces but victims and witnesses too."

Chief Constable Alec Wood added: "The test case gave some very compelling evidence on how we can make great efficiencies by reducing officers' time through the video-enabled virtual courts, but more importantly, how we can ensure we give the best possible service to our victims and witnesses at a difficult time.

"We remain committed to the collaborative work we already undertake and continue to work together to ensure the best service for our communities."