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Hundreds of millions 'wasted' on UK court digitisation scheme

'Agile' Common Platform Programme is 'vapourware', say insiders

Old Bailey Lady Justice

Exclusive Hundreds of millions of pounds have been wasted on plans to digitise the criminal justice system due to the mismanagement of a key programme that has so far delivered little value to the taxpayer, according to multiple insiders.

The Common Platform Programme (CPP) was supposed to be complete by March 2019. However, a spokeswoman from HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) said the programme will not be complete until 2020 at a revised cost of £270m.

The project began in 2014 with the intention of creating a unified platform across the criminal justice system to allow the Crown Prosecution Service and courts to more effectively manage cases. Programme director Loveday Ryder had described the project as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to modernise the criminal justice system.

But The Register understands that over the last 30 months, a series of independent and internal reviews have documented the programme's failings, with all the key milestones having been missed.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), which monitors large programmes across government, recently flagged the programme as an amber-red risk, according to sources. That means delivery on time and on budget is unlikely. An internal review last year described the culture within the programme as "toxic".

Yet huge amounts of cash have continued to be signed off, despite sources claiming only one meaningful service has so far been delivered: an online self-service system for magistrates to manage their sittings.

One crucial component of the system, an identity access management system to allow professionals to log on and view cases remotely, has yet to be delivered despite £40m having been spent on it. Without that portal, users will be unable to access cases online – the main purpose of the project.

Sources say the programme has been overly focused on building the platform in house, rather than buying off-the-shelf software. They describe what has been produced so far as "vapourware".

Particular scorn has been directed at the so-called "agile experts" who have been in charge of managing the programme. "There is no plan, no artefacts, no direction, just constant excuses," said one insider. "How they can still be in place as well as still being allowed to recruit 'experts' with absolutely no delivery after 30 months is scandalous."

Multiple sources have also questioned the potential conflict of interest in members of the management board also owning companies to have contractors working on the programme.

"The continued waste on trying to deliver this programme is outrageous," said one insider, who asked why the programme should be allowed to continue in its current form – or indeed at all.

The CPP is part of a broader £1bn programme across the Ministry of Justice to make courts fully digital. That has already been identified by chief exec of the civil service John Manzoni as one of the biggest projects keeping him awake at night. Those concerns have also been echoed by Public Accounts Committee head Meg Hillier.

Live services so far include: an online make a plea programme which allows people to plead guilty or not guilty to traffic offences; a digital markup tool for legal advisors to record case results in court, which is being tested by magistrates courts in Essex; and the Magistrates Rota.

The Register understands that since then the project has failed to progress further. One insider said that if the programme were following proper agile principles, by this stage there ought to be at least a dozen meaningful services available across the criminal justice system.

Last year the IPA also gave the project an amber/red rating, based on assessment in September 2015. It said this reflected the "complexity of the programme and the innovative use of agile development principles".

The Register asked the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS why so much cash has been spent; what actions it intends to take to address the serious governance problems raised; and why money continued to be signed off on a programme that has so far failed to deliver.

In a boiler plate response, an HMCTS spokeswoman said: "The Common Platform Programme is a partnership between HMCTS, the Crown Prosecution Service and police and has strong support from the judiciary.

"It provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to design and build a fully connected criminal courtroom by 2020.

"This will enable practitioners to access and share relevant criminal case management information and make the best use of technology such as video links to improve the experience for victims and witnesses." ®

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