Her Majesty's £444m court IT system can't even add up fines

Auditors unable to get hold of revenue accounts

The Libra magistrates' courts case management system has contributed to the inability of HM Courts Service to produce basic financial information to support its accounts, according to a report from the National Audit Office (NAO).

The courts service uses Libra, plus information produced by local police forces' IT systems, to provide the auditor with accounts of the revenues it collects from fines, confiscation orders and penalties. On receipt of cash, for example, the courts service uses Libra to record the payment against the person on whom the fine was imposed.

A similar system operates at the courts service's fixed penalty offices, using information from police forces, based principally on the Vehicle Procedures and Fixed Penalty Office system.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: "Because of limitations in the underlying systems, HM Courts Service has not been able to provide me with proper accounting records relating to the collection of fines, confiscation orders and penalties. I have therefore disclaimed my audit opinion on its trust statement accounts."

The auditor said the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the courts service's parent department, plans to look at the functionality of Libra.

The MoJ said that improvements to the accounts for fixed penalties are unlikely until the current Vehicle Procedures and Fixed Penalty Office IT system is replaced with Pentip.

Morse said: "I welcome the further steps planned by the courts service and Ministry of Justice to improve the evidence on its financial position relating to fines, confiscation orders and penalties. However, I recognise that they and other government bodies face significant challenges in improving the extent of available data and on reducing the level of outstanding debt."

The cost of Libra was £444m, plus services charges of some £10m a year. The system is now run by Fujitsu, but the original supplier, ICL, estimated its cost at £146m over 11 years when bidding for the project in May 1998. ®

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

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