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The Lord Chancellor' department is cutting back the role of Fujitsu Services in a project to modernise the magistrates court system, following long delays in delivering bespoke software.

Fujitsu is ahead of schedule in providing hardware and network infrastructure in courts for the Libra project, which is due to be completed at the end of 2004. The infrastructure part of the project is already 75 per cent complete but software development is well behind track.

Serious concerns arose last year when delays in delivery of specialised software for case management and court administration and increases in their costs led Fujitsu Services to seek to renegotiate the contract. Despite "intensive negotiation" the government and Fujitsu Services failed to agree a revised price for the delivery of the application software, so the Lord Chancellor's Department has decided to procure application services separately. This will cost less than the Fujitsu software, the government hopes.

Fujitsu Services will continued to supply the hardware infrastructure for the Libra project and associated support services until 2007.

The Libra contract was awarded to ICL (now called Fujitsu Services) in December 1998 and originally ran until 2009. The value of the contract was £183m but was increased in 2000 to £319m as a result of Lord Chancellors Department asking ICL to deliver more and an extension of the contract by four years till 2013.

The estimated value of the revised contract with Fujitsu Services - excluding software development - is £232m. In addition, the Government has paid Fujitsu Services £6.8m for design products produced as part of the software application development that can be reused, but the rest of the cost for its work will be borne by Fujitsu Services.

The Government believes an alternative supplier will enable delivery of software application services by the end of 2004 - a delay of nine months on the original 1998 contract - and at a price that "will be affordable and provide value for money".

Government IT projects have a long and ignoble history of going awry, but ministers responsible for the Libra Project have pledged to learn from its failure to go ahead as first planned.

The Libra IT programme will provide updated computer systems and equipment to magistrates courts throughout England and Wales. The programme will standardise IT systems and infrastructure used across the magistrates courts service (there are currently three different main legacy systems supplied and supported by Fujitsu Services, Unisys and STL Technologies), and provide links between magistrates courts and other criminal justice agencies. ®

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