The Ministry of Justice [MoJ] computer systems crash

Courts across England & Wales have been disrupted to the point of cases being abandoned over the past two weeks because of a catastrophic IT failure which began with the criminal justice secure email system [CJSM] ceasing to function which deprived 75,000 lawyers and legal staff and your own BCRP staff of a secure communications channel.

The MoJ’s main computer network linking lawyers, judges, probation workers, BCRPs and court staff malfunctioned which meant that cases were delayed, access to the courts’ digital case system was denied and jurors could not be enrolled.

The justice minister Lucy Frazer was forced to answer emergency questions in the Commons last Wednesday during which she said there had not been a cyber-attack and also denied the problems were the result of financial cuts.

An internal review entitled Digital & Technology, however, made it clear last year that long-term underfunding is at the heart of computer weaknesses in the MoJ having suffered cuts of almost 40% since 2010. The report said: “Historical under-investment in ageing IT systems has built our technical debt to unacceptable levels and we are carrying significant risk that will result in a large-scale data breach if the vulnerabilities are exploited.”

The document also contains a colour-coded analysis relating to “criticality”, ranging from the worst [black] to the least dangerous [green]. Among those in the black category were 30,000 users whose systems required “immediate remediation”.

Commenting on last week’s courtroom IT chaos, Chris Henley QC, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association, wrote in a message to members: “Whatever the reasons, and whatever the fix, has anything been more emblematic of the deep and worsening crisis in the criminal justice system than the collapse of IT systems in courts across the country last week?

“Trials adjourned, evidence inaccessible, secure emails vanishing, wifi down, Xhibit just a blank screen, prisons beyond communication, the stuff of satire, and a high-profile media story for several days … But it’s OK, it had nothing to do with a chronic lack of resources.”