Flinging £700m at courts' IT won't increase efficiency, says NAO

Legal eagles need to get off their perches and start squawking at each other

An ambitious plan to modernise Blighty's criminal justice system via a £700m digitisation programme will not cure its increasing inefficiencies, a government spending watchdog report has found.

According to a report by the National Audit Office today, the £2bn annual spend on the justice system is "not currently delivering value for money."

It found that just 33 per cent of trials go ahead as planned on the day they were listed to start. And there has been a 34 per cent increase in the backlog of cases in the Crown Court since 2012-13.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said today: "The ambitious reform programme led by the Ministry, HMCTS, CPS and Judiciary has the potential to improve value for money by providing tools to help get things right first time, but will not in itself address all of the causes of inefficiency."

The report found that the primary cause of inefficiency was the refusal of separate parts of the justice system to communicate.

The report said the justice system’s reliance on paper also "builds in inefficiency." It said on one of its case study visits the office witnessed a trial where the police had so little faith in the court’s equipment “that they told us they hired their own at a cost of £500.”

Last year the government began its five-year plan to modernise its court estate by splashing £75m per year on Wi-Fi in all courts, new equipment for presenting digital evidence and the roll-out of video link systems.

It also plans to introduce an online self-service court system that will allow defendants to enter a plea, complete forms and pay fines. That is against the backdrop of its continued courts closure programme, with 86 more to shut.

The department is also spending £381m on its "Common Platform" for an integrated digital case file, intended to reduce the amount of paper used in the system. That system is hoped to save £425m across 10 years. However, the Major Projects Authority has flagged the project as being unlikely to succeed.

The Ministry of Justice has also hit some major problems in trying to reorganise its mega IT contracts.

The report said it has examined many IT-enabled change projects and found that "these are very difficult to deliver well, and the government does not have a good track record in this area." ®

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