Liverpool's Community Justice Centre is close to completing the first stage in evaluating an approach to criminal justice IT that could pave the way for similar developments across the country.
The centre is part of a pilot programme to allow criminal justice agencies to work together in an effort to speed up cases in their journey from arrest to sentencing.
In 2002, the Criminal Justice IT (CJIT) Unit - a government agency that manages joined up systems nationally - had planned to allow the core criminal justice organisations to have electronic access to shared case file information, by means of a web browser or a case management system, by March 2006. It has since dropped this ministerial target.
However, Liverpool Community Justice Centre is already using electronic communication to deliver "joined up justice". The centre includes the police, Crown Prosecution Service, probation service, magistrates' courts and voluntary sector support groups. It aims to remove blockages in the criminal justice system and make it more efficient.
Dave Chambers, national programme manager for community justice at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, said, "It allows greater management of information end to end. We are trying to find potential efficiencies looking across criminal justice."
Using software developed by EzGov, Community Justice Centre staff are able to track each case and professionals from different disciplines are able to see appropriate information held by other agencies.
Meanwhile, the court judge can see electronic summaries of this information during hearings, as well as earlier comments he or she has made on the case.
However, Chambers, who managed the Liverpool project, was keen to emphasise that the tracking system is a way of joining existing agency applications, rather than replacing them.
He said new business processes and interdisciplinary team working was agreed prior to the introduction of the new IT system. "IT was brought in against a backdrop of changed culture and reflects the agreed business process change. That's the right way to do it."
In 2004, the Home Office announced £800m of additional funding for criminal justice IT systems on top of £1.2bn already committed to create integrated systems across the police, Crown Prosecution Service and the courts. This spending is managed by CJIT. It has also helped to fund the Liverpool Community Justice Centre.
"CJIT got involved at an early stage and has been helpful and very open to new ideas for the centre, model office and allowing IT in support of change," Chambers said. "The CJIT would not support it were it not a strategic fit to its plans."
This was first published in April 2006