Court chiefs plan to spend an extra £810,000 replacing three-year-old laptops, the Gazette has learned, amid suggestions that existing equipment has quickly become obsolete. The Ministry of Justice will buy 900 new devices at a cost of £900 each in the next year for judicial office-holders. They will be made available to fee-paid and visiting judges, and to tribunal members, to use when they attend court.
The MoJ has already spent £1.8m on 2,000 laptops issued to judges in the past three years.
The figures, disclosed in a response to a freedom of information (FoI) request, suggest the existing devices are not suitable for the changing nature of judicial functions.
One senior judge has told the Gazette that necessary upgrades could not be made to the laptops already bought, resulting in the need for replacements.
Salaried judges were given laptops from 2016 to allow remote and flexible working, and to provide access to key documents inside and outside the courtroom. They integrate with a cloud-based system called the Judicial Intranet, or the ‘ejudiciary’, which allows judges to access email and use Microsoft’s Office 365 software.
The MoJ told the Gazette it is upgrading IT systems and software to reduce costs and increase efficiency. A spokesperson added: ‘This includes the judiciary, whose original laptops will be upgraded and redeployed within HMCTS to avoid any unnecessary IT spend.’
In a statement provided in the FoI response, which itself was almost a month overdue, the department said: ‘We work closely with our suppliers to secure the best value for taxpayers, ordering in bulk to reduce costs where possible. We also use commercial contracts that have gone through government assurance processes, and which include detailed value-for-money assessments.’
Technology and IT will be key facets of the government’s modernisation plans, which will result in some cases being determined online or through a video link.
In an assessment of the reforms published last week, the National Audit Office said progress on some elements had stalled, not least the Common Platform Programme that has suffered ‘significant delays in development and delivery’. The Common Platform replaces the existing HMCTS and CPS case management systems with a single system.