Severe issues with the main computer network for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have led to cancelled hearings and other problems in the courts system over the past few days.
Cris McCurley, a partner at the firm Ben Hoare Bell in the north east, told Legal Action that solicitors there had been having difficulties with court hearings. Yesterday (22 January 2019), she was in court for a family law case involving a single issue. The case was ‘listed before the wrong judge, in the wrong court and the judge could not access the digital bundle of documents’. Since the digital system was introduced in the court, lawyers have had to send document bundles to the courts by email, as judges expect to be able access them via the MoJ’s computer system. McCurley said that she believed initially that the problems might be confined to her area, but it is now clear they are nationwide.
The MoJ has invested over £1bn in digitising the courts and tribunals system. The latest IT difficulties were first reported on Twitter. One of the most high-profile lawyers on social media, The Secret Barrister, said in a tweet today (23 January 2019)
: ‘[T]his is far from the first time the courts and the public have been let down by the MoJ’s abysmal computer systems.’ The mystery barrister and author went on to ask: ‘[H]ow much is this persistent failure costing, and who is going to be accountable?’
The head of HM Courts and Tribunals Service, Susan Acland-Hood, retweeted an MoJ update
and expressed her gratitude
to ‘HMCTS staff, professional users & others who’ve worked so hard to keep courts working through the problems – very sorry it was necessary’. The MoJ has also confirmed that the problems are not due to a cyber-attack.
‘It appears that the MoJ has software glitches which are affecting the courts, but from what we can gather it’s a mixed picture as some parts of the justice system are working normally. It is, though, hugely embarrassing for the MoJ given the amount of cash that has been invested to modernise the system,’ said LAG director, Steve Hynes.