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Thousands of Cases Affected by Court IT System Glitch

Thousands of Cases Affected by Court IT System Glitch

CPS Computer Glitchs

Legal professionals warn that criminal suspects could be allowed to go free due to a nationwide IT breakdown that has caused chaos in the courts.

Thousands of cases have been disrupted after the main computer system for courts in England and Wales suffered a glitch, with the secure email system used by lawyers and judges also compromised. Computer systems at hundreds of courts across the country have been affected by the issue, leaving judges and the Crown Prosecution Service unable to access vital information for cases. As a result, some defendants in criminal cases could have been erroneously detained longer than the law permits, meaning that there is a risk that some suspects may have to be released before they are tried.

Approximately 30 trials have already been adjourned as a result of the outage, according to the Criminal Bar Association.

“There’s a lot of cases being delayed but some people are getting on with it. There’s only so much you can do without the information” said one barrister.

Richard Atkins QC, chair of the Bar Council, said the issue:

“..illustrates how vulnerable the delivery of justice is with reliance on weak IT systems in our courts.”

He added: “We cannot have a justice system that comes to a shuddering halt the moment the IT does not work properly.”

Meanwhile, Chris Henley QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), said: “Short-term savings often result in wider costs to the public purse and cause a broken criminal justice system to fall further apart.”

CPS left without case files after computer failure

Some lawyers have responded to the incident by stating that the systemic IT failures leading to the crash date back several years, with the head of the CBA blaming former justice secretary Chris Grayling’s “nihilistic legacy” at the Ministry of Justice for the issue. The Ministry of Justice has apologised for the incident, but maintains that its courts reform programme and common platform remain unaffected by the glitch.

The incident is especially embarrassing as the court IT systems are the central focus of a £1bn courts modernisation programme being rolled out by the government, including a new £280m common platform programme upgrade that connects courts, police, and prosecutors.

The reforms are aimed to modernise and improve court services, rendering them more efficient and easy to access for online users. But lack of access to the Common Platform programme during the outage impeded cases by limiting legal professionals’ access to critical case documents such as statements.

The programme, which is now in a pilot phase, has suffered numerous delays since first being introduced in 2014. CBA chair Henley specifically blamed former justice secretary Chris Grayling for these delays and failures, stating that the “unrealistic planning” of the reform rollout bore “all the hallmarks of a Grayling project.”

Ministry of Justice seeking ‘urgent solutions’

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice apologised to “those who have been affected by network issues that we have been experiencing today,” affirming that:

“Contingency plans are in place and courts have continued to operate but we know how frustrating this is for court users.”

The spokesperson added: “We are pressing our suppliers to provide urgent solutions so that services can return to normal as soon as possible.”

The Ministry of Justice also estimated that issues caused to the Criminal Justice Secure eMail system’s server would require a “restoration process [that could] take up to two weeks.”

Around 1 in 8 of the users of the system were affected by the outage, equating to 75,000 judges and criminal barristers.

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