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NAO calls for user focus in courts' IT

01/03/16

National Audit Office report warns of cultural change challenges in move to digital working

Efforts to embed digital working in the criminal justice system need to focus on users rather than simply the technology, the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned.

The NAO has raised the issue in its new Efficiency in the criminal justice system report, which highlights that despite an improvement in case management since 2010 it is still not delivering value for money.

It points to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) aiming to transform the system with new IT and digital working, following years of slow progress in modernising the courts – caused largely by the existence of too many disparate systems that were not interoperable.

But it also says this will involve a big cultural change, and that one of its case study visits showed some members of the courts are still unable to touch type and could not find the funding to pay for training.

“We cannot say whether this is a widespread concern across the system, but it is illustrative of the problems that can arise for these types of programmes,” the report says.

In progress

It highlights the initiatives in progress to make the courts more efficient, including the £381 million development of a single case management system for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), and the £375 million technology modernisation of the court estate. The latter includes the roll out of WiFi, video links and an online plea system.

The report says the courts system as a whole is inefficient as its individual parts have strong incentives to work in other ways that create costs elsewhere. It leads to a situation in which two-thirds of cases do not progress as planned, and significant regional variations in the performance of the system.

Amyas-MorseAmyas Morse, head of the NAO (pictured), said: “Some of the challenges are longstanding and complex – others are the results of basic avoidable mistakes.

“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. It is essential that the criminal justice system pulls together and takes collective responsibility for sorting out the longstanding issues.”

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