HM Courts Service turns around troubled Libra magistrates system


HM Courts Service turns around troubled Libra magistrates system

Tony Collins

Officials at HM Courts Service (HMCS) say they have turned around a failing £447m project to provide a national case management system for magistrates courts - a scheme that is 16 years late and will cost nearly three times more than expected.

HMCS change managers say they have been standardising business practices in courts and "not just delivering an IT system", since they took direct control of the project in January 2007.

Officials have told Computer Weekly that independent Gateway reviews of the Libra project have progressed from a red warning light in 2006 to amber last March and last month to green.

Libra, which is in 83 courts, is due to be rolled out to all 370 magistrates courts in England and Wales by the end of December.

HM Courts Service has changed direction by attempting to shape new business processes around the specific needs of those who work in the courts, rather than imposing any central diktat.

Executives on the change management team say they are rolling out new IT and business practices based on what works best in the courts, and validating it in live operation.

The project has turned around from its position in 2003, when the National Audit Office criticised a different management team for using IT "to support existing processes" rather than "re-engineering processes with new IT".

But the cost has risen from £146m to an expected £447m by March 2008, and it is expected to rise further as links are developed between Libra, the police and other parts of the public sector.

Since 1992, civil servants and a range of suppliers have tried unsuccessfully to replace court IT systems with a single national system to help speed up the time taken to deal with suspects and offenders.

Control of the project passed between government departments, including the Home Office, Lord Chancellor's Department and the Department for Constitutional Affairs until HMCS's change management team took direct charge.

Karen Wheeler, change programme director at HMCS, told her board about the state of Libra in 2006. It was then on hold pending software fixes and there were "significant applications and supplier issues" - and no plans to take forward new processes and business change.

The software is now being supplied by STL. Accenture has handled the integration. 

A spokesman for HM Courts Service said the green light at a Gateway review last month "does not diminish the challenges and risks the project still faces but recognised these were being managed". There is "increased confidence the project will deliver successfully".

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