Despite more than 10 years’ of efforts to join up IT in the criminal justice system, it is still not possible to share or transfer information electronically throughout the process, according to a critical report by the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
MPs on the committee highlighted the fragmented nature of IT across police, courts, prisons and probation services as a major contributor to poor information sharing and inefficient practices across criminal justice.
“The remarkably slow progress in improving IT systems over the last decade means there are still too many disparate systems which fail to operate together,” said PAC chair Margaret Hodge.
“There are some 2,000 IT systems in use in the police service, and the Metropolitan Police alone uses over 300. The departments need to set a clear vision for future IT with a timetable for how different initiatives will come together to provide a coherent and seamless case management system.”
The report said that there is no single case management system that can pass offenders seamlessly from the police to the prosecution, through the courts, and to the prison and probation system.
“For example, 10 years after magistrates' courts and the Crown Court were brought together in the same service, it is still not possible to transfer data automatically between them; documents instead have to be copied and transferred either physically or by email,” it said.
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The MPs were told by criminal justice departments that old “big bang” approaches to IT had caused problems in the past, but that a new approach of “making changes incrementally, joining up the existing systems and dividing contracts into smaller parts” has now been introduced.
The report cited a few examples where progress has been made recently.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) transfers information to the National Offender Management Service and magistrates' courts digitally. And the police service now sends 90% of case files to the CPS electronically, compared to none two years ago. But prosecution staff said it takes significantly longer to process work digitally than on paper.
Attempts to join up criminal justice systems have been under way for more than 10 years. As long ago as 2001, Computer Weekly reported that the government was scrapping a new system designed to join up the different arms of criminal justice.
A later project to establish a single database of offenders accessible by prisons and probation staff, known as C-Nomis, was widely criticised by MPs in 2009 after being rolled out in prisons only and seeing costs more than double from £234m to £513m.
In March this year, the Ministry of Justice announced a five-year, £375m programme to update and replace the technology used in courts and tribunals across the UK.