Nearly 100 Crown court centres across the country have been thrown into 'chaos' after an IT system designed to transform court procedures stopped working this morning.
The system, XHIBIT, provides real-time information on the progress of hearings to interested parties outside the courtroom and records the outcome of court proceedings, including any sentence.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service said the XHIBIT system was currently down due to a failure at supplier CGI’s data centre. The system has been down since 8am but the Gazette was told the outage was not affecting court business and that the company is working to get the problem fixed as soon as possible.
XHIBIT, introduced in 2006, was described by HMCTS as the ‘first step in joining up the criminal justice system’.
It sends vital hearing information from the courtroom to police, victims and witnesses, probation, Crown Prosecution Service, prisons, magistrates’ courts and youth offending teams.
HMCTS states on the Ministry of Justice’s website that ‘paper records and handwritten logs will be a thing of the past as court clerks record Crown court events as they happen using new technology in every court’.
Potential benefits, it says, include increased visibility of hearing progression and reduced solicitor waiting times.
However, a National Audit Office report from 2009 into the administration of the Crown court highlighted concerns expressed by almost all court staff interviewed over XHIBIT’s reliability and speed.
Over half of court managers and judges, in their 2007-8 annual court reports, raised issues about XHIBIT, in particular that the system ran too slowly or ‘crashed’, especially on Mondays and Fridays when the courts were processing a significantly higher number of cases.
London's Doughty Street Chambers said that, apart from today's inconvenience, there could now be other problems on the horizon.
'For example, when we submit bills to the Legal Aid Agency for work done today, they will be using court records to verify those claims,' said Maurice MacSweeney, business development director of Doughty Street Chambers' crime team. 'So it's only some way down the line that all the ramifications of today's IT problems will be fully known.'