The Government's attempts to computerise the criminal justice system have been condemned by MPs as inconsistent, inadequate and late, while existing systems are often outdated.
Parliament's financial watchdog, the all-party Public Accounts Committee, said, "Information technology in the criminal justice system is being developed from a very low base. Basic case details required by all parties are generally input separately by each agency, which is likely to lead to duplication, error and delay."
The systems being developed and implemented within the criminal justice system must resolve not perpetuate, these anomalies, the report warned. "Ambitions for closer joint working are being hampered by a lack of consistent definitions, such as what constitutes a criminal case," the report said.
"Investment in IT will only be fully effective if the criminal justice agencies can agree to record common data in a consistent way, and they should give a high priority to completing this task."
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) came under scrutiny for its case management system. "In common with other key computer systems being planned, the [service]'s new case management system will not be available for some years: the target date for full implementation is 2003," the committee said.
"Staff will continue to use the Scope system that we criticised in 1998. Though the use of that system has since been improved, it is not available in some areas because roll-out was halted as technology become outdated. We expect the CPS to ensure that all its staff have access to an effective case management system during the run-up to implementation of the planned replacement system."
The Home Office and the CPS should work together to ensure that the joint police/Crown Prosecution Service criminal justice units are able to share information effectively through common or compatible computer systems, MPs said.