The Law Society has called on the Ministry of Justice to compensate solicitors whose jobs have been disrupted by significant IT failures.
Asked by Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi to make a statement on the system failure, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC told MPs yesterday that the 'intermittent disruption' had been caused by an 'infrastructure failure in our suppliers' data centre'. Staff in courts and tribunals, the Legal Aid Agency, probation and the ministry's headquarters were unable to log onto their computers. However, when she made her statement yesterday lunchtime, Frazer said 90% of staff now had working computers and she expected the remainder of court sites to be fully operational by the time they opened today.
Frazer said the ministry was 'very disappointed that our suppliers haven't yet been able to resolve the network problems in full'. Richard Heaton, the department's permanent secretary, was due to meet the chief executive of one of the suppliers, Atos, yesterday afternoon, and would also be writing personally to all members of the judiciary.
When asked about penalty clauses, Frazer said: 'Of course we will be looking very carefully at the contracts which include penalty clauses.'
Richard Miller, head of justice at the Law Society, told the Gazette that if the problems were caused by a failure in the supplier's data centre, he hoped 'that it would be the IT suppliers, rather than the taxpayer, who will bear the ultimate cost in compensating our members for the losses that they have incurred'.
The Society has long expressed concern about the economic crisis within the criminal justice system and the fact that many criminal firms are struggling to survive.
Miller said: 'Solicitors have struggled valiantly to try to work around these problems where possible, and continue to maintain their vital role in ensuring that the justice system functions properly in the public interest. They are ill able to bear the financial losses this IT problem has caused them. Our members need to be compensated for the losses they have suffered as a result of these problems.'
Last night the ministry issued another update reiterating that the system failure was not the result of a cyber attack. The department added that defendants had not been detained unlawfully as a result, and neither had prisoners been released unlawfully.