Electronic courts scheme in crisis talks

Another government IT disaster looms

A project to link hundreds of magistrates' courts in the UK electronically may have to be abandoned because discussions between the government and a key supplier are floundering.

An internal memo from the Lord Chancellor's Department said it had been "unable to reach an agreement with Fujitsu" on a proposal for the delayed system which "represents value for money and which we can afford", Computer Weekly reports.

Talks with Fujitsu are continuing but the Lord Chancellor's Department is now considering a "fallback position", the memo says.

The Libra system, which is being supplied by Fujitsu, is an important part of government plans to speed up the criminal justice system.

Court cases are often delayed because of errors in paperwork, the National Audit Office has found and the aim of the Libra system is to minimise such mistakes, which can delay court proceedings and cause unnecessary expenditure.

A key aspect of the project is a common case-working system linking all magistrates' courts in England and Wales, and this might be dropped in favour of establishing "commercial arrangements for delivering a robust, standard national system based on the best of the legacy systems".

If the latter route is taken, magistrates courts will have to cope with three existing types of case-working system, which are incompatible and part of which date back to the 1970s. This could leave staff with terminals on their desk a new PC delivered in advance of the core software and a terminal to access legacy systems.

Rosie Eagleson, general secretary of the Association of Magisterial Officers, told Computer Weekly, "If the core service is not delivered, we are right back to square one, except that enormous sums of public money will have been expended to deliver the sort of hardware and software that is available off the shelf at PC World."

If the core case-working part of the project is abandoned, Fujitsu will still get more than half of the contract's value because for supplying new PCs and Microsoft Office to support the Libra system. The cost of the private finance initiative (PFI) IT project has risen from £183m to £319m.

A decision of the future of the project is expected later this month, according to the leaked memo. ®

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