Home secretary John Reid highlighted the poor state of government IT when he said that the department he inherited this month was “not fit for purpose” and lacked the systems to deliver adequate information.
This view was reinforced by a National Audit Office report last week into the troubled Libra magistrates court IT system.
The report said delays in deploying the system were causing problems in collecting fines and it was not delivering adequate management information.
Magistrates courts use one of three IT systems – Equis, LCIS or MCS – which offer varying levels of functionality and, crucially, have no common interface.
The planned introduction of Libra, which will replace these systems, has meant that funding for upgrading Equis, LCIS and MCS has been withdrawn, with the result that they are increasingly obsolescent, said the National Audit Office.
The government had originally planned to introduce a national case management system for magistrates courts in 1993. The contract for Libra was awarded to ICL (now Fujitsu Services) in 1998. Since it was originally specified, the cost of Libra has increased from £146m to £390m.
Conservative MP Richard Bacon, who sits on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, said, “By the time it is introduced, Libra – the new IT system for magistrates courts – will be almost a decade late.
“The three systems currently in use are virtually obsolete and Libra has swallowed up funding for upgrades, meaning courts must struggle on, plugging holes in the system with extensive manual work.
“It defies belief that magistrates have been recommended to wait for Libra to be delivered before
using the full range of sanctions the Courts Act 2003 placed at their
Problems with magistrates court systems
A report published by the National Audit Office last week said it costs £23m a year to run the three legacy systems used by magistrates courts. Problems include:
- Difficulties in interrogating information by individual name because information is held on cases
- Problems in checking the payment history of an offender because of a lack of a central database
- Delays in compiling performance data because of the need to use manual systems
- An inability to verify identity in court by using databases held by other agencies to check addresses and national insurance numbers.