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Joined-up criminal justice system is condemned

Bruce Ackland
The government is poised to scrap a three-year old system built to link different arms of the criminal justice system following Sir Robin Auld's radical review of the criminal courts.

Published on October 8, the Criminal Courts Review recommended the dismantling of Integrating Business and Information System (IBIS), which links the six main IT systems in the criminal justice system.

Mike Thompson, principal analyst at Butler Group, said: "This is another government IT initiative which has gone down the tubes. The review of the criminal courts has taken a deep look at IBIS and found it severely lacking. This is a major high-profile failure. It is going to be costly to replace and will cause incalculable delay. I can't see the IBIS replacement being implemented in this government's lifetime."

A joint initiative between the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Crown Prosecution Service, IBIS was launched in July 1998, following a cross-departmental review of the criminal justice system.

IBIS was a key component of Labour's 1997 election vision of joined-up justice. It was designed to ensure a whole system approach to information systems development across the criminal justice system and to take full advantage of new technology.

The call to dismantle IBIS comes as the £319m Libra project, the national IT case management system that provides a core part of IBIS, continues to be delayed owing to technical problems and cost concerns.

Other IBIS projects include an online web portal designed to focus on building public confidence in the criminal justice system, and the Virtual Plea and Directions Hearing Project The latter enables absent parties to enter pleas and hearing directions electronically.

The Criminal Courts Review also called on the Criminal Justice Board to replace IBIS with an integrated information technology system based on a common language and common electronic case files.

It is also recommended that a Criminal Case Management Agency should be established to manage the implementation of the new integration system and, when in service, the production of system protocols and the quality assurance of data.

A government statement on the Auld report describes the recommendations as "radical and far-reaching".

"Such changes will need to be carefully considered, in the light of the fullest possible range of comment," the statement said. "Not only from those who work in the criminal justice system but also from the public at large."

The IBIS unit was not available to comment on the recommendations.

The period of consultation will end on January 31 2002 when the government proposes to set out its conclusions in a White Paper.

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