£12m Royal Courts eWorking system has ‘virtually collapsed’

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£12m Royal Courts eWorking system has ‘virtually collapsed’

Kathleen Hall

Only 11 documents were electronically submitted to the Royal Courts of Justice' (RCJ) flagship eWorking system in the second quarter of 2011 - fewer than 0.5% of all files entered on the system - with critics claiming the £12.5m project has "virtually collapsed".

The news comes as the RCJ prepares to move to the £300m Rolls Building next month, a state-of-the-art law court complex designed to ensure London remains the world centre of financial law.

eWorking was designed to make the flow of information from court users across the RCJ more efficient by removing unnecessary manual tasks and enabling users to submit files electronically.

The system was intended to provide a means for electronic submission of files, online management of documentation and payment of court fees as part of the transaction.

But few applications have been filed electronically since the system was first implemented in 2009, with the percentage falling from 27% of all applications made on eWorking in the third quarter of 2009, to just 0.5% by the end of the second quarter of 2011. All other files on the system have to be manually scanned in.

But even those figures only refer to the relatively limited number of documents stored on eWorking - the system was meant to become a repository for a significant proportion of all files submitted to the RCJ.

People familiar with system have estimated eWorking may have cost up to £12.5m to date, but say costs could escalate further as the system continues to be developed due to the mismanagement of the project.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) was not able to give a date for when the system would be complete.

Tony Guise, of commercial litigation firm Guise Solicitors, has attempted electronic filing under the RCJ eWorking system and confirms it has a negligible take-up.

"Anecdotal evidence suggests that it has virtually collapsed and is not being used by anyone at all. There is a huge amount of embarrassment about this programme," he said.

"At the moment e-filing is unworkable. The system should have been as simple to use as e-banking. But they didn't make the technology accessible. It's also e-mail-based rather than web-based so it's very clunky."

Nigel Kelly was the eWorking project manager at the MoJ responsible for setting up the system but has since left the ministry to found IT consultancy Processfour. When Computer Weekly spoke to Kelly in June he was optimistic about the success of the system.

eWorking was intended to replace the legacy case management systems of the various commercial courts and the current InterComm system in the Commercial Court.

But Computer Weekly understands the system does not have an electronic diary, or Listing Module, to set the times and dates for courts. Experts say this is crucial to any case management system.

A spokesman from Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service, said: "After the evaluation of the initial pilot of the project in the Commercial Court, it was recognised that there were a number of areas (such as online fee payment, parties case reader) where improvements could be made to the customer experience. With the judiciary, we took the view that we would not promote the use of the system until these areas had been successfully developed and tested."

Work is currently underway to develop the system so that RCJ can promote a service that will provide all the benefits that court users require, said the courts service. "At this point we expect take up to rise significantly. However at present because we have not promoted the service widely usage has declined," said the spokesman. This was expected, he said.

Take up of electronic filing in eWorking since 2009

 Date

All eWorking
(electronic and scanned)

Filed electronically  Total  

 %

 
 Q3 2009 110 41 151  27%
 Q4 2009 337 50 387  12.9%
 Q1 2010 576 35 611  5.7%
 Q2 2010 1495 33 1528  2.2%
 Q3 2010 1826 21 1847  1.1%
 Q4 2010 2124 109 2233  4.8%
Q1 2011 4468 19 4487 0.42%
Q2 2011 2462 11 2473 0.44%

Source: Royal Courts of Justice

 


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