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Inefficient IT systems mean UK prosecutors choose paper over digital

Margi Murphy | May 21, 2014
Mismatched IT systems contribute to trial cancellations, which happens 25 percent of the time.

Prosecutors would rather work on paper than digitally as it takes "significantly longer" to manage cases through the Ministry of Justice's mismatched IT systems, the Public Account Committee (PAC) has found.

In many cases officials have been unable to transfer information automatically from the magistrates' courts to the upper courts, with documents instead having to be copied and transferred either physically or by email, causing significant delays which can result in trials being cancelled.

The PAC report found that the MoJ's "remarkably slow progress" in improving IT efficiency is delaying justice, and that "mistakes in the past" were at risk of repeating themselves unless there was a clear vision and timetable set for integrating the disparate IT systems for case management from offence to probation

"The departments responsible (Home Office, MoJ and the Attorney General's Office) are struggling to ensure the smooth passage of criminal cases through the system. A quarter of trials are cancelled or delayed because of late decisions by prosecutors or court managers," the report stated.

The findings have been highlighted in a review of the soon-to-be rolled out payment by results probation service. The rehabilitation services will be extended to those sentenced less than 12 months in custody, which is an estimated 50,000 offenders - a 22 percent increase in caseload.

The PAC said that the MoJ, "could not provide details of its contingency plans as commercial negotiations are still in progress."

Police forces have also come under scrutiny for their inefficient IT. The police currently run 2,000 separate IT systems, and the Metropolitan Police alone uses over 300. It was revealed last month that poorly integrated IT led to failure to record 20 percent of crimes.

Open-book accounting
The PAC concluded that the MoJ must write open book accounting principles into the new contracts and allow the National Audit Office full access to contractual information so that "contractors are not gaming the system as has happened in the past".

ComputerworldUK recently revealed that the MoJ does not know what services were delivered and paid for within its £500 million IT contract with Atos, and that it is still working to avoid risk of overcharging, a risk spotted eight years into the £500 million contract with outsourcing giant Atos. The department said that the Atos contract incorporates open book accounting principles.

The PAC report said that the probation services overhaul will avoid contract management problems, like the Serco and G4S electronic monitoring overcharging fiasco, by employing short-term contract staff who are "better equipped" and "commercially focused to manage the contracts effectively". The Ministry is also recruiting and training staff who can manage contracts in the long term.

 

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