20-year-old tech poses "risk" to British justice

Court IT in the dock

Court IT in the dock

Failure to replace a 20-year-old criminal justice computer system poses a "significant risk" to the running of UK courts, a report has found.

The aged Crest case management system is unable to share data between courts, forcing staff to print out and retype information every time a case is transferred, according to a National Audit Office report published today.

"Crest is long overdue for upgrade or replacement. It was introduced 20 years ago and runs separately in all court locations," the report said.

"The lack of any facility for electronically transferring data into Crest leads to duplication and risks error, as staff have to rekey data.

"The fact that Crest, which is critical to case management, runs on ageing computers using an operating system no longer supported by the manufacturer represents a significant risk for HM Courts Service."

HM Courts Service (HMCS) is looking to update Crest so it will run on modern hardware and software by March 2011, with a view to adding extra functionality in future.

The report also found fault with the Xhibit system, a web portal that updates the public on a daily basis with hearing lists, court orders and results.

The system began suffering problems in 2008 after it was transferred to HMCS supplier Logica, with staff complaining of slow speed and crashes - problems that Logica said have since been reduced by upgrading memory in court-based computers.

Further difficulties with the system were caused by the introduction of new forms for recording court case results that are not compatible with Xhibit, forcing staff to enter data manually and fax the information to other service users in certain cases.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "While Crest is a mature system it is still very stable and supports the work of the Crown Court effectively.

"It is available 99.75 per cent of the time. HMCS is working with suppliers to replatform Crest, by 2011, and ensure improvements to the system and its reliability.

"Xhibit is well liked by staff. A new programme was implemented in 2008, which has seen a reported reduction in incidents in Autumn 2008. A series of technical upgrades will be implemented to improve speed and reliability."