Courts system fails four acceptance tests

The Lord Chancellor's Department's £319m Libra project to introduce national systems to support magistrates courts has run into...

The Lord Chancellor's Department's £319m Libra project to introduce national systems to support magistrates courts has run into new problems, with four areas failing to accept the first phase, based on Microsoft's Windows 2000.

Details of the problems are revealed in a letter from Michael Wills, a minister in the Lord Chancellor's Department, to Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, who had expressed concern at a 75% increase in the project's costs.

The failure of acceptance tests in four areas - Devon & Cornwall, Nottinghamshire, Gloucestershire and Thames Valley - is a particularly sensitive issue for the Lord Chancellor's Department because the problems relate only to the introduction to the first and simpler of the two phases of Libra implementation.

In the first phase of Libra, a private finance initiative project, ICL's subcontractors are due to roll out the infrastructure - including Windows 2000 and Microsoft Office - to 42 areas of England and Wales. The roll-out should be completed by the end of next year, when delivery of a new core caseworking system is scheduled to start.

Originally the core application was due to have been rolled out from July this year but it ran into technical problems and its introduction was deferred for 18 months.

To date, the office automation system has been delivered to 16 of the 42 areas but it failed its acceptance test in four of the 16 areas, for a variety of reasons.

Robert Carr, ICL's client director for the Libra project, said the failure in two cases involved "pretty minor issues" which were being addressed. In the other two, he said ICL was working with the Lord Chancellor's Department towards readiness for a further acceptance test.

The problems will reinforce the belief among some IT specialists working for magistrates courts that Libra, as a national IT implementation, is over-ambitious and may be destined to fail.

A spokeswoman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said, "ICL is treating the resolution of problems as a matter of urgency". She added that the office automation was "not as straightforward as you might think because different solutions are required according to the networks that exist" in each area.

Taylor said, "Libra has all the classic hallmarks of a government IT farce."

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