The Legal Aid Agency has urged criminal defence practitioners to help develop a digital case management system to cut administrative bureaucracy and unnecessary delays.
The Criminal Justice System Common Platform Programme is a joint initiative between Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and the Crown Prosecution Service.
The online portal will be defence practitioners’ route into a ‘unified digital criminal case management system’ known as the ‘common platform’, the agency said.
It will allow defence solicitors to access ‘essential’ criminal case information, ‘interact’ with the prosecution and courts, and download initial disclosure of the prosecution case.
The Ministry of Justice first outlined plans for a common platform in its Transforming the Criminal Justice System document in July last year.
Different IT systems in the CPS and HMCTS ‘are sometimes not conducive to the effective sharing of information’, the ministry said, prompting it to announce it would develop ‘open standards’ which would enable criminal justice IT systems ‘to talk to each other more effectively’.
The elements required to build a combined case management system for HMCTS and the CPS would be delivered by March 2017, the document stated.
Urging solicitors to help ‘shape’ the portal, the LAA said this week it wanted defence practitioners ‘to be involved throughout the development and testing cycle of the online portal to ensure that their needs are being understood and met’.
Fortnightly prototype testing will include: logging on to the platform, searching for a case, obtaining initial disclosure of the prosecution case, participating in case management and receipt of directions for magistrates’ and Crown court.
The agency’s call comes as solicitors anxiously wait to find out if their bids for new legal aid contracts have succeeded.
The agency has said it will notify firms this month of the outcome of its tender process for a reduced number of contracts to provide 24-hour cover at police stations, but will not give an exact date.
However the agency inadvertently narrowed down the time frame after publishing a paper for its current tender for criminal legal aid services in a West Country procurement area. Devon and Cornwall 1 failed to attract sufficient bids in the original procurement exercise.
Publishing a ‘frequently asked questions’ document, the agency said the MoJ was not able to publish the outcome of the 2015 duty provider contract procurement exercise before the deadline for submission of Devon and Cornwall 1 tenders: midday on Wednesday 9 September.