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Common justice platform aims unchanged despite Whitehall “fragmentation”

Neil Merrett Published 02 May 2017

CPS digital transformation leader says building common standards and function with multiple police and court bodies is not without challenges, but progress is being made after delays

 

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) digital transformation lead has said there have been no changes in the scope or scale of its efforts to create a common platform to support more streamlined shared working between justice and law enforcement bodies.

Speaking at the 2017 Government Computing conference in London, CPS director of digital transformation Mark Gray said that despite challenges in trying to introduce a cross organisational service for criminal cases, there had not been major impacts on the department's aims for integrated working.

Gray said that alongside coping with increasing amounts of data being generated from workers and the public relating to criminal justice, CPS was heavily focused on building a common platform as part of a joint venture programme with police forces and the UK courts. He noted that the project was "progressing", albeit behind schedule.

"It is making reasonable progress now. There are a number of live products, so they have a magistrate's rota tool. They have a digital mark-up capability for the legal advisors in court and they are just in the process of launching the automated track case management for summary justice cases, such as [those involving] TV licensing, the DVLA and Transport for London (TFL). These are the cases where you are effectively guilty by default and unless you claim otherwise, you pay a set fine."

Developed as an agile programme, the first "slither" of functionality for the court case management functions are intended to be released to its Liverpool teams this summer before being built up further, Gray said.

A key intention of the solution, which has been undertaken under successive governments, was to remove duplicated working between the involved organisations. Gray said that these intentions remained in place.

"I don't think the ambition has changed. Obviously there is a sense of picking one's battles/focus areas for collaboration," he said.

"We as an organisation have the unusual dynamic that the police in this country are not a single organisation. There are 43 different police forces around the country and a number of other evidence gathering bodies and they all have a significant degree of autonomy. So obviously while there is a degree of standardisation about the process they go through and to some extent the systems they use, there are significant degrees of non-standardisation there."

Gray argued that the key focus for the platform was to try and work, where possible, collaboratively at local and pan-national level.

"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a challenge," he added.

"Everybody has bought into the concept and vision that a joint up justice system is better, while recognising that getting there is no small feat."

As a relative newcomer to CPS, having joined the organisation from the private sector in July 2016, Gray said government has been more siloed than he had expected, yet also had more drive to collaborate.

"I think the fragmentation is much greater than I was ready for, both within organisations as well as beyond. But there is definitely an appetite to change that and break down some of these barriers."

Gray used his speech to identify broader challenges facing the CPS and its digital transformation ambitions. These included themes such as departmental infrastructure and sensibly balancing security needs without becoming entirely risk adverse in a manner that does not support innovation.

He also indentified the challenges facing CPS in ensuring sufficient internal digital capability.

"In common with many organisations, we have massively underinvested in the training of our people through a period of austerity because it is one of the things that one can avoid investing in," Gray argued.

"This is not just about advanced digital capability, but it is about IT basics. So there is a big drive there to try and increase those capabilities and that is not a trivial thing to do."

Gray said that this was partly a challenge around engagement, particularly in the legal profession, which he argued in some cases is committed to more traditional paper and briefcase approaches to handling information and data.

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