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Ministry of Justice IT systems are ‘fragile and precarious’, say MPs

Public Accounts Committee calls on ministry to urgently improve its “inefficient” IT systems to avoid delays to service transformation

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) must get to grips with its poor IT systems or risk “further demoralising essential staff”, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has warned.

In a report, the PAC said the MoJ’s transformation of how probation services are managed is being slowed down by IT problems. 

“ICT systems in probation are inefficient, unreliable and hard to use,” the PAC said. “In a service that relies on successful joint working between multiple partners, it is essential that ICT supports, rather than frustrates, effective and efficient collaboration. This is far from the case for probation.”

This echoes a report by the National Audit Office, published in April this year, which found that a lack of integration between systems used by the National Probation Service (NPS) meant staff often had to re-enter data into different applications. 

As part of the MOJ’s reforms, 21 new community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) were created to supervise low-risk offenders on probation.

The National Offender Management Service (Noms) was originally meant to develop an interface for case management data systems shared with CRCs, using its nDelius case management system, by June 2015, but the project has been heavily delayed.

Although the interface is now in place, the PAC report said the transformation “has been slower than expected due to difficulties connecting the CRCs to ICT systems within Noms and significantly lower volumes of business than originally estimated”.

“Systems are still fragile and precarious, not least the ICT infrastructure and Noms’ nDelius case management system, which puts added pressure on already hard-pressed staff,” the PAC said.

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The delays have resulted in the MoJ having to pay CECs £23m in compensation, and MPs said it was crucial that the nDelius system, the interface “and wider ICT systems are fully functional as soon as possible, otherwise Noms risk further demoralising essential staff”.

The nDelius system has also had to be “stripped back” so it can be operated by CRCs and NPS regions as a single system.

“As a result, this has reduced the usability of nDelius and NPS staff regularly raise ICT issues with senior leaders in Noms,” the report said.

The MoJ is not a stranger to IT problems. In 2009, it had to scrap the development of its £234m C-Nomis system after it had run two years late and doubled in cost.

By 2013, Noms had replaced 43 separate case management systems with nDelius.

Recently, the MoJ announced a £1bn programme to make every court and tribunal in England and Wales become “digital by default”. 

In a report, Transforming our justice system, produced by Lord Chancellor and justice secretary Elizabeth Truss, Senior President of Tribunals Sir Ernest Ryder and Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the government set out its aims, including developing a “single online system for starting and managing” cases across different tribunals.

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