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MoJ prunes one element of digital courts strategy

12/09/18

Michael Cross Correspondent

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has taken a modest pruning knife to its £1.2 billion digital justice programme.

Justice statue

It has removed the plan to modernise procedures for collecting unpaid fines and other “criminal debt” from the programme, admitting that an element once seen as an early win is “no longer affordable”.

In a statement headlined Compliance and enforcement work to continue unchanged, the MoJ said that the Transforming Compliance and Enforcement Programme (TCEP) was not affordable within the 2015 Spending Review period.

However, it indicated that the work could possibly be renewed in the future.

“The work that is already underway has not been lost, the new ways of working including better enforcement strategies and administration will continue to apply,” the MoJ said. “In addition, focused work on the development of future service design will continue, so that we ensure it is ready should it be required in the future.”

The decision followed a warning from the National Audit Office that the modernisation programme faced a potential funding gap of £177 million.

Strong business case

Ironically, the system picked for the chop was originally supported by one of the programme’s strongest business cases. For an outlay of £58 million it was supposed to increase income by some £50 million a year from 2020, and by reducing the level of unpaid fines deal with what has long been held up as an example of inefficiency in the criminal justice system.

The programme, one of the most ambitious currently underway in a Whitehall department, includes projects to enable the widespread use of video court hearings and to allow people charged with certain criminal offences to plead guilty online.

Image by Captain Roger Fenton, public domain through flickr

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