The £25m scheme to computerise all county courts in England and Wales by the end of the year has been delayed, disrupting a very tight Court Service schedule for staff training.
The case management system Caseman is designed to issue court documents automatically and will replace the existing system of manual record-keeping. It has been piloted in six county courts and the first stage of the project was due to be installed across the country this week. But, as yet, the system cannot cope with printing the court documents, and is now expected to be operational from 3 March.
Last year, the Texas-based giant, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), won the £25m contract to computerise the crown and civil courts. A spokesman said the company had found "a minor blip" in the system and said the project would be back on schedule by the middle of the year. "It is a good thing that it was picked up at this pilot stage," he said.
But the Public Services Tax and Commerce Union, responsible for court staff, is furious, saying the delay has completely disrupted an extremely tight timetable for training which had been imposed on about 3,000 of its members, forcing many to cancel their leave.
The training has now been postponed until at least next month. The union is concerned the cost of the delay may be so great it will lead to redundancies among court staff.
A Lord Chancellor's Department spokeswoman dismissed reports that the cost could amount to £500,000 as "speculation", saying the estimate for re-scheduling training was £1,000. She said other costs have yet to be identified and the Court Service will be discussing the contractual implications with EDS.
The EDS contract, which also covers computerisation of crown courts, is the first to be awarded under a Private Finance Initiative by the LCD and is due to last seven years.