The government has spent nearly a quarter of a billion pounds on a new courts case management system that has been beset by problems and prompted a union representing court staff to consider strike action.

Justice minister James Cartlidge revealed this week that as at 31 March 2021, HM Courts & Tribunals Service spent £236m on implementing the Common Platform programme, which includes £36m on staffing, £300,000 on consultancy and £199m on developing the system. Cartlidge was responding to a written parliamentary question by Labour’s Alex Cunningham.

Cartlidge also revealed that the budgetary requirement set out in a 2015 business case approved by the Treasury was around £280m. The budgetary requirement for the development of Common Platform included in the February 2021 business case approved by the Treasury is £308m.

The lord chief justice revealed last October 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.

Subsequently, the Gazette discovered that criminal defence practitioners had regularly flagged up a problem with the case management system, casting doubt on the Ministry of Justice’s pledge that development of Common Platform would be guided by the experiences and feedback of real users.

In November, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents court staff, said the system was ‘not fit for purpose’ and that its use had sent work-related stress and anxiety levels among members in HMCTS ‘through the roof’. Nearly all HMCTS members who voted in a consultative ballot said they would support strike action if HMCTS failed to act reasonably and meet the union’s ‘achievable’ demands, which included an organisational risk assessment, equality impact analysis and stress survey of all users.

Cartlidge said last month that HMCTS was committed to resolving the union’s concerns, was engaged in ‘constructive dialogue’ and had introduced strategies to ‘directly mitigate’ the issues raised.

Common Platform is currently live in nearly half of all criminal courts and has managed over 40,000 criminal cases since rollout began. The MoJ told the Gazette that the rollout is still paused and a decision to resume will be taken alongside senior judiciary.