UK gov't claims '08 rollout for tardy legal IT system

UK gov't claims '08 rollout for tardy legal IT system

The U.K. government's Courts Service has reaffirmed that the long-delayed Libra case management system will be fully rolled out by the end of next year — although it has so far reached fewer than one in eight courts.

The Libra project began 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 programme -- 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.

A report published by the Ministry of Justice earlier this month revealed that delays to the Libra system have continued.

The delays were highlighted as a "significant control issue" in the 2006-07 annual resource accounts for the 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 to re-write aspects of the resulting functionality," the report said.

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

deployment planning."

At the end of February roll-out of the Libra systems was put on hold, pending a review, with the system installed in just 23 magistrates' courts.

But a spokesperson for HM Courts Service said Libra had since been rolled out to another 19 courts, taking the total to 42. Figures produced by ministers in April showed that there were a total of 360 magistrates' courts in England and Wales.

The HMCS spokesperson denied that roll-out had been "halted" -- although it clearly stopped in February and restarted in May.

"In February this year there was a review of the project, during a scheduled break in deployment. The rollout was not halted for this. Roll-out continued in May 2007 and Libra is currently fully operational in 42 courts. It is expected that full roll-out will be achieved by December 2008," he said.

That completion date has itself moved back from that given by DCA permanent secretary Alex Allan — now in the same post at the Ministry of Justice — in evidence to the Commons public accounts committee last year. Libra's roll-out would be completed by October 2007, or in a "worst-case scenario", March 2008, Allan told the MPs.

Earlier this month, IT projects for the criminal justice system were also hit by a review of the C-NOMIS offender management system, costs of which are reported to have soared from £240 million to £950 million.

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