UK courts' £1.3B case management platform hit with failures

System caused issues in fitting electronic tags to dozens of criminals after new tech rolled out

The UK courts service failed to see the benefits of a £1.3 billion ($1.56 billion) case management platform after a rethink led to a £22.5 million ($27 million) write-off, says a government watchdog.

Originating in 2016, the effort to modernize His Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) only "partly evaluated" one early adopter site and had not completed robust technical testing. As it was rolled out, the new platform heaped a burden on already under-pressure courts service, according to the National Audit Office.

The UK public spending watchdog reported that HMCTS and Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) — an independent organization which pursues criminal prosecutions — had planned to cut inefficiencies across the criminal justice system by creating a single case management platform for both organizations, even though they had previously recognized that this was the "highest-risk option and without fully appraising all other options at the outset."

"The project team faced difficulties managing the project’s technical requirements, causing significant delays," the NAO said in its report.

In 2021, the project board decided only HMCTS would get the new system, and it would integrate the CPS's existing system via interfaces. The new plan cut potential savings by £9 million ($10.7 million) per year, around 8 percent of the expected savings, and led to a £22.5 million ($27 million) write-off of the money it spent building the CPS functionality.

Costs on the overall programme — new IT and processes — have risen by 10 percent since it was first established in 2016. While 10 out of the planned reforms have been implemented, not all have been welcomed. IT glitches also meant meant criminals were not fitted with electronic tags when they should have been in 35 cases.

The problems coincided with an approach to testing — the project's agile methodology — which did not provide assurance that common platform was ready to be introduced to courts.

"Its own testing strategy review found that it was not sufficiently focused on understanding and mitigating risks. Although agile projects must check that they meet user needs, HMCTS did not clearly articulate the standards the system would need to meet before the rollout continued. HMCTS had only partly evaluated one early adopter site before deciding to roll the system out nationally," the NAO report said.

Commenting on the report, Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: "The decision to roll out the common platform without sufficient assurance has put avoidable pressure on the courts at a critical time. As HMCTS develops plans to adjust the programme it is essential that it builds in sufficient time to learn as it goes and promptly address any performance concerns."

HMCTS avoided wholesale outsourcing of the project, instead taking a piecemeal approach. Capgemini, PwC and Manchester-based 4net Technologies are among the suppliers which have been involved with the project.

"Gone are the days of single, large scale, beginning-to-end government IT projects handed to multinational IT consultancies. HMCTS is creating its own capability to develop, build and continually improve," Kevin Gallagher, then digital change director HMCTS, said in a speech in 2016. He now works as a consultant.

The NAO said HMCTS needs to develop the way it hopes to benefit from the £1.3 billion ($1.56 million) being invested in the project.

The watchdog pointed out the courts service has a "limited understanding of whether reformed services are delivering the intended efficiencies." It recorded £311 million ($372 million) in net savings between 2014-15 and 2021-22, but had not validated measured efficiencies.

"HMCTS has since developed a unit cost approach to understand this better," the NAO said.

The analysis covering April to June 2022 found that unit costs were 19 percent to 146 percent higher than expected across its fully or partly reformed services. "Unit costs for many services are also higher than pre-reform baselines. It has done some work to understand the reasons for increased costs but lacks routine data on how efficiently reformed services are working, such as the time reformed processes take. This limits HMCTS's ability to identify solutions that could reduce costs," the NAO said.

All of which is just great. Another example of Britain's efforts to cut waste. World beating. Well done. ®

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