Criminal defence practitioners have regularly flagged up a problem with the new courts case-management system, the Gazette can reveal - casting doubt on the Ministry of Justice's pledge that development of the Common Platform will be guided by the experiences and feedback of real users.
Earlier this month, the lord chief justice revealed that the rollout of Common Platform was paused in August and September due to ‘some difficult problems and setbacks’ that code writers and IT specialists responsible for the project were trying to resolve.
A spokesperson for HMCTS acknowledged that there had been issues with the rollout ‘and are grateful for the patience of the sector while we work towards all criminal courts using the system by early 2022’.
Guidance provided by the MoJ states that Common Platform is live in 101 courts and has managed over 40,000 criminal cases. Following a planned summer break during August, HMCTS took the decision to pause some site go-live dates ‘to allow time to learn from our experiences to date’ and ensure the platform is stable as more courts are added. The timetable for future rollout is subject to approval from the senior judiciary.
The guidance also states that Common Platform is being built iteratively ‘so that we can learn, adjust and improve the system as we go along, based on the experiences of and feedback from real users operating the system in a live environment. This is called "agile development". As such, we always knew that the system – which replaces not just one, but all criminal case management and supporting systems in both magistrates’ and Crown courts – would be subject to adjustments along the way’.
However, since the ministry provided this guidance, the Gazette has spoken to frustrated criminal defence practitioners who are repeatedly struggling with the system.
Accessing a case on Common Platform requires a defence solicitor to enter the police reference number correctly, which the Gazette was told is not easy to obtain, as well as the defendant’s first name, surname and date of birth, all without any errors. In some cases, it can take a while for solicitors to access cases because the defendant’s name was spelt wrong when it was inputted into the system in the first place. The system does not suggest near matches, so practitioners get a red error screen and are unable to do anything. Getting on to a case can take hours and involve having to ask several people at court for details.
The Gazette was told these issues were flagged up by early test users and that this particular problem was foreseeable.
An HMCTS spokesperson said: 'The Common Platform is a large but vital system that will help make the criminal justice system more efficient and effective – allowing all parties involved in a case to access information on one system for the first time.
'We acknowledge there have been issues with the roll out and are grateful for the patience of the sector while we work towards all criminal courts using the system by early 2022.'