The Ministry of Justice says it is pressing its suppliers for urgent solutions to fix the 'major disruption' that has hit its IT systems over the last few days.

In a statement last night, a spokesperson for the ministry said: 'We apologise to those who have been affected by network issues that we have been experiencing today. Contingency plans are in place and courts have continued to operate but we know how frustrating this is for court users. We are pressing our suppliers to provide urgent solutions so that services can return to normal as soon as possible.'

The ministry says email and internet access have continued to work across the estate via WiFi and on mobile devices. However, problems have been affecting devices using wired connections to the main MoJ network, which is also used by the department's other agencies and arms-length bodies, including users in HM Courts & Tribunals Service.

When asked to speculate what may have gone wrong, solicitor Peter Wright, managing director of cyber-law specialist Digital Law, told the Gazette the biggest problem for the ministry is probably its 'ageing IT infrastructure'.

Wright said: 'More than likely, as different courts have embraced technology at different times, there is a plethora of some courts operating with older operating systems than others. Someone might be using a high-speed version of Windows through the cloud, someone could be labouring with Windows 95, an old version that's no longer supported.'

Some buildings may have high-speed fibre cables while Victorian buildings will have old copper wires running through them. Wright added: 'The estate is a clear problem.'

When the Gazette spoke to the ministry yesterday afternoon, it was aware of suggestions on Twitter that the department was a victim of a cyber attack, which it said was not the case. However, Wright anticipates that the National Cyber Security Centre will nonetheless have been contacted. 'I would expect them to be going in to make sure there has not been any form of breach, that the system has not been compromised nor is there any ongoing threat.' 

Meanwhile, the ministry said the 'major service degradation' that struck the criminal justice secure email system last week has now largely been resolved. Around 75,000 users were affected. The ministry says the inboxes of over 40,000 users has now been recovered.