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Poor IT is causing delays across the justice system

James Rogers
Inadequate IT is causing delays and inefficiencies across the criminal justice system, according to an Audit Commission report released earlier this week.

The report follows years of difficulties with IT systems implemented by the police, the courts and the probation service. "The lack of a modern, shared IT system restricts the exchange and monitoring of information both locally and nationally," the commission said.

The report highlighted the lack of interoperability across the criminal justice system, which is made up of seven main agencies: the police, the Probation Service, the Crown Prosecution Service, criminal defence, magistrates' courts, crown courts and the Prison Service.

It said, "The sharing of performance and management information between criminal justice system agencies and areas is severely hampered by out-of-date and non-integrated IT.

"Practitioners recognise the problems and want to resolve them but the agencies are often mid-way through lengthy programmes to update their individual IT systems."

Andrew Foster, controller of the Audit Commission, acknowledged the Government's efforts to overhaul IT in the criminal justice system but underlined the importance of making it more efficient. He said, "Resolving issues of inefficiency in the criminal justice system is vital to ensuring that justice is delivered."

The commission found that, even where integrated IT systems exist, some criminal justice system staff continue to fax rather than e-mail case papers, suggesting potential cultural and skills barriers to the use of IT.

"These barriers need to be overcome with a comprehensive training programme that will allow the full potential of IT to be realised," said the report.

Auditors also highlighted the ongoing issue of out-of-date information on the Police National Computer (PNC). In the areas visited, "there was a general acceptance that delays [in updating information] were the norm," the report said.

Last year a report from the Home Affairs Select Committee found that up to two thirds of PNC data contained errors, and urged the Government to postpone the launch of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), which enables employers check job applicants.

Originally scheduled to be launched in July last year, the initial stages of the CRB began operating in March.

The Government has already announced targets to establish e-mail links between all criminal justice system agencies by 2003 and to enable the exchange of all case-file information electronically by 2005.

The Home Office was unavailable to comment at the time of going to press.

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