In today’s Times Chris Henley QC, Chair of the CBA, slams ‘years of underfunding’ in the Criminal Justice System.

Please see article below:-

‘Destructive’ Chris Grayling blamed for computer chaos in courts

Jonathan Ames, Legal Correspondent | Frances Gibb, Legal Editor

January 24 2019, 12:01am,
The Times

Chris Grayling oversaw the introduction of a new IT system when he was lord chancellor

The IT failures that have caused chaos in the courts date back years to Chris Grayling’s “nihilistic legacy” at the Ministry of Justice, lawyers have said.

Thousands of cases have been disrupted, with trials adjourned and delayed, after the main computer system in England and Wales went down at hundreds of courts.

Yesterday Lucy Frazer, the justice minister, faced warnings that the system was reaching crisis point as politicians and lawyers questioned how a planned £1 billion courts modernisation programme could proceed after the failings with the existing network.

Mr Grayling, now the transport secretary, was lord chancellor for three years until 2015, during which time the introduction of the present IT system began.

Chris Henley, QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, which represents about 4,000 lawyers, said: “The unrealistic planning has all the hallmarks of a Grayling project. He has repeated the trick everywhere he has been. We’ve seen it with the probation contract, private prisons and more recently the railways. We are living with his destructive, nihilistic legacy in all areas of legal aid and the courts.”

Jonathan Black, a partner at BSB Solicitors and former president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, said: “Since 2013, when Grayling was brought in to manage transformation of our justice system, we saw a plethora of projects prefixed with the word transforming, which was window-dressing for selling off.”

Sir Simon Hughes, the former justice minister, defended Mr Grayling. “The court reform IT programme was part of a hugely important, necessary and urgent part of a several hundred million-pound investment in the Courts and Tribunal Service,” he said.

“This was fully supported by the judiciary and was a really important initiative of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats working together in coalition to modernise the working of our courts.”

Yesterday Ms Frazer said that all judges would receive a personal letter from Sir Richard Heaton, the permanent secretary at the MoJ. She said that Sir Richard would also meet the chief executive of Atos, one of the network suppliers. She said that the department was exploring whether the suppliers’ contracts included “penalty clauses” to try to retrieve some of the costs incurred by the IT failures.

Bob Neill, chairman of the Commons justice committee, said that ministers should “ensure new initiatives are fully and robustly tested before being implemented”.

Richard Atkins, QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said: “The Ministry of Justice is structurally underfunded and its budget is based on achieving year-on-year savings of hundreds of millions through the hugely ambitious court reform programme. After years of underfunding, parts of the court estate and IT systems are in a shocking state. The Treasury must not turn a blind eye any longer. The Ministry of Justice needs more money for investment in our legal system.”

Mr Henley said: “The closure of so many buildings, the ‘rationalisation’ of staff etc are all premised on the basis that the modernisation programme will create a cheaper digitised replacement system. Lawyers and many judges have no confidence in this planned overhaul of the courts and have serious reservations from a public policy point of view.”

Ms Frazer told MPs that the systems crash did not relate to budget cuts and that the issue was “a contractual supplier and an issue in their system”. She also denied suggestions that some defendants might be released before they went on trial as a result of the IT failures. “No prisoners have been released, in fact the prison system is a different system to that of the MoJ.” She said that 90 per cent of users had access to the IT system, and that by today all would be online.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “The network issue has nothing to do with the court modernisation programme . . . This is precisely why we are investing £1 billion to modernise courts.” Atos declined to comment.

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Date: 24/01/2019