Members will be concerned by the failure of the multiple vital IT systems that our courts require, including systems supplied by Atos and Microsoft. Indeed, I saw those failures at first hand last week, when I visited one of the Crown courts. The chair of the Criminal Bar Association described our courts system as being “on its knees” following that failure, and blamed
“savage cuts to the MoJ budget”.
Reports in The Times suggested that there is a risk of defendants being released before trial. Will the Minister confirm whether any defendants have been released without trial? What costs has the failure incurred? Have Atos and Microsoft paid any penalties for failures on the contracts so far? Can the Minister guarantee that all costs arising from the failures will be recovered from the suppliers?
Of course, such failings do not happen in a vacuum. The Ministry of Justice has faced cuts of 40% in the decade to 2020. The Government are pursuing a £1.2 billion courts reform programme, which has seen hundreds of courts close, thousands of court staff cut and a rush to digitise many court processes. Are the plans to cut 5,000 further court staff by 2023 still being pursued?
Will the Minister explain why the Government ignored the Association of Her Majesty’s District Judges, which called for courts closures to be stopped until
“fully functioning IT systems are demonstrated to be up and running successfully”?
Finally, will the Minister now commit to a moratorium on further cuts, closures and digitisation of our courts until a Bill has been brought to the House so that we can fully scrutinise the Government’s plans?