Costs mount as UK court IT project stalls

Costs mount as UK court IT project stalls

The U.K. government has admitted that fresh delays have hit its scandal-hit Libra project to provide a case management computer system and infrastructure for magistrates courts.

It is the second recent blow to justice system IT projects, following the announcement earlier this week of a review of the C-NOMIS offender management system, costs of which are reported to have soared from £240 million (US$481 million) to £950 million.

Libra was first begun in 1998 and has seen repeated delays and cost hikes. Last June, the Commons Public Accounts Committee found that Libra was set to cost £442 million plus £40 million a year in support costs for the eight and a half year program -- up from the original £146 million price tag for 10 years.

Figures issued by ministers earlier this year revealed that a total of £327.55 million had already been spent on Libra between 2000-01 and 2005-06.

Roll-out of Libra systems was halted at the end of February, when just 23 of the 370 magistrates courts in England and Wales had installed the new systems, pending a review.

But further delays Libra have been revealed in an annual report from the former Department for Constitutional Affairs (now the Ministry of Justice).

"The project has been subject to delays following a number of external factors, including supplier delay and a pause to deployment in order tore-write aspects of the resulting functionality," Alex Allan, former permanent secretary at the DCA -- and now the MoJ -- said in the report.

"This has created significant problems at some sites, causing backlogs of work and requiring an improvement to training provision and local deployment planning," he added.

HMCS had reduced the operational impact of the delays by continuing to use the legacy systems and work-arounds that Libra was expected to replace, he said.

The National Audit Office found in an investigation last year that the courts' legacy systems made it difficult to search for information by offender's surname on a national basis and hampered the compilation of performance data.

Allan said HMCS' internal audit had reported improvements in the reliability and stability of Libra since its installation at court level but there were "continuing issues" over accounting functionality and the impact of work-arounds on performance.

The report adds: "The Management Information System (MIS) requirements have developed and changed during the lifetime of the project, and further work is being taken to ensure the new system adequately supports the business needs."

National roll-out of Libra is now expected by the end of 2008 -- a year later than Allan told the Public Accounts Committee it would take to be delivered when the PAC inquired into fines collection last year.

In HM Court Service's own annual report, chief executive Sir Ronald De Witt added: "The current project is continuing to work on the application development to support case management and fine accounting, and to provide consistent and up-to-date management information."

The project had delivered IT infrastructure into all magistrates' courts, with common office products, secure email, access to the internet and provision of an internal intranet, De Witt added.

Delivering justice? Libra and its suppliers

Libra has been procured through a range of contracts, with infrastructure supplied by Fujitsu Services under a £265 million private finance initiative contract which ended in March, when IT infrastructure contracts across DCA were consolidated into deals with Atos Origin and LogicaCMG in the department's DISC program, which is set to be worth up to £500 million.

Supplier STL is contracted to provide Libra's case management software -- now Java/Oracle rather than Microsoft .Net based -- and a migration application to transfer data to the new system, in a deal expected to be worth £34.6 million, of which £9.5 million will be spent in 2007/08.

Accenture is to install and support the STL application software and to both develop and host the management information system software, under an £85.5 million contract, of which £16.23 million will be spent in 2007/08.

The STL and Accenture elements of Libra are set to be wrapped into the DISC contract with DISC application services supplier LogicaCMG.

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