CIO interview: David Jones steers the Crown Prosecution Service into the digital age

For many, the image of the Crown Prosecution Service is that of a body unchanged for centuries, with reams of lever arch files piled along winding, Kafkaesque corridors. But with the drive for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to use electronic case files by 2012, that dusty caricature is rapidly changing, says CIO David Jones

For many, the image of the Crown Prosecution Service is that of a body unchanged for centuries, with reams of lever arch files piled along winding, Kafkaesque corridors. But with the drive for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to use electronic case files by 2012, that dusty caricature is rapidly changing, says CIO David Jones.

Part of the problem with the CPS in the past was the cultural attitude to paper records, says CPS CIO David Jones. "When the media wants to take a picture of a senior lawyer, nearly every time that lawyer is asked to pick up a reference book. The bigger the book, the more important the lawyer or judge." It's an unhelpful stereotype, he says.

 

CPS migrates to digitised data

Last year the CPS printed 300 million sheets of paper, enough to fit around the equator more than twice. Despite a database with all the information on it, users would insist on carrying about faxes and photocopies. David Jones explains: "There were multiple records and multiple confusions. What we are doing is removing that, which is huge in cultural terms."

By 2012 all file-referencing will be digital. "Internally we will be digital, if it is not on the electronic file then it does not exist," says Jones.

"We'll no longer be tied to the weight of files, whether that's carrying them around a court or taking them around the country. The master copy will be the electronic copy. We're not stopping people from printing things out but we are saying that's not a record. In order to close the action they have to update the electronic record. And the use of 3G secure technology will allow lawyers to do that completion from home, should they wish. It will change the fundamentals of the way people work," he says.

The other deadline is for all criminal justice departments to exchange information digitally as of April 2012. But Jones is realistic about the uptake. "It will not be 100%. It will not be the same everywhere because there are local variations. We are taking account of that," he says.

 

CIO with a military background

Jones's background was delivering command and control systems in the army, a training which has given him a pragmatic attitude to getting the job done.

His understanding of the value of information and operational experience has served him well in this role, he says. "I am not a gadget person. The most important thing is to understand where the operation is coming from, the context and where the challenges lie. Then bring your expertise to bear. It's not about things being bad, it's about how you can exploit or use something.

"In military operations you have to deal with what is before you and get best value out of it. If you are not adding value, you shouldn't be around doing what you are. And as it turns out, we were kind of moving in the right direction. We are not there yet, though."

Jones already renegotiated a contract with Logica in October 2009, which offered a 20% cut in the costs of IT and substantial increases in capability around speed and greater mobility. This positioned the CPS to accelerate the government's cost efficiency drives in the comprehensive spending review, he says.

For Jones the easiest part of his role at the CPS was recognising what needed to change in the department. "The challenge is articulating that in a credible way. If I hadn't presented a coherent case for change, culminating in the extension of Logica and Global Crossing contract in October 2009, then it would have been much harder."

 

Data repository cuts costs

In October the department will launch a repository, in conjunction with the police and Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which Jones likens to a YouTube for the Criminal Justice System. "I want to get the message across that this technology is not difficult to use."

Police will put all bulky data files such as CCTV footage, pictures and unformatted background information in the repository. "We get given an e-mail with URL and reference to the case, which we can then publish onto another part of the same platform," says Jones.

"The repository is one of those enhancements that will just make life a darn site more easy."

The department currently spends up to £6m in mail and courier costs, amounting to about £6 per case. But with the repository, this cost will fall to £1 per case for all parties. "Storage, handling and printing costs are going through the floor," says Jones.

Jones says there have been some natural objections from users about how they will implement the changes, but overall they have been positively received.

 

Early signs of cultural change

"It's all classic change-management stuff. And it's not something we could achieve by sitting in London and throwing out grand statements of direction." Much of this is dependent on local leadership, he says.

"The centre can only guide and create policy. What we can't do is to walk straight into court and say 'do it.' What we're finding is that most of our good ideas are already being done somewhere. For example, witness care in Merseyside is already totally digital and there have already been prosecutions using tablets in Winchester Crown Court.

"The moment we started talking about 3G, people were trying to steal laptops out of my hand because they already knew what they wanted to do. So very quickly we saw people who knew what they were doing, and were saying 'just give me the kit'.

"It wasn't about piloting, because a pilot gives the impression that if it fails you throw it away, this was about early adoption and getting it right."

Electronic presentation and preparation of evidence is another area that is being formalised at a national level. The fraud group in particular are using it and cutting 60-70% of the cost of case preparation, says Jones.

So does he see the stereotypical depiction of the lawyer with a massive folder changing into one with an iPad in the future? "I hope so, when that happens we will know the message is moving through.

"There are things the operator base will start to do that we didn't think was possible before. There will be very bright people taking it to a place we haven't thought about yet."

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