Supreme Court Group gets wired

Caroline Jowett

AS part of a continuing programme to improve efficiency, the Supreme Court Group has introduced a series of IT support systems.

The programme illustrates the commitment to IT of this court group, which comprises the Court of Appeal Civil Division, the Queen's Bench, Chancery and Family Divisions and the Probate Service throughout England and Wales.

The projects are at different stages of development, some have been running since last year while others, still at the pilot stage, are expected to be on-line in the near future.

Deputy administrator of the Royal Courts of Justice, Ian Hyams, says: "The next area targeted for a major system is the Queen's Bench Division and the user requirement is being prepared. Like other systems it will be networked to provide maximum efficiency. The task of networking the whole RCJ complex will present a significant challenge."

The Anchor Project will computerise the Cause Books in the Admiralty and Commercial Court.

The system's network facility will mean users only have to enter the details once to obtain all the information on a case. The pilot system will be evaluated to assess its potential for case management. It will store the details of all cases heard in the Admiralty and Commercial Courts from start to finish with a continual update of those still in progress.

Other new projects include replacing the court file tracking system in the principal registry of the Family Division. Another system, Chalis, aims to replace the current Cause Book in the Chancery Listing Office, generate standard form correspondence and provide information and statistics to the listings office.

Completed projects include a decrees absolute index system, a taxing administration system and in-court video.

Neil Smith, head of the debt recovery department at London firm Lees Lloyd Whitley, says the greatest benefit to him has been the Bacchus system in the Bankruptcy and Companies Court which allows the user to search for prior petitions. It contains a record of bankruptcy or winding-up petitions, available at the touch of a button.

He says: "The IT has made a tremendous difference. We just phone up and they give us the information straight away. We are hoping in time to install a modem link so we can access the information ourselves."

The court provides a bank of six terminals so members of the public can search for prior petitions.

Gill Synnott, senior outdoor clerk at Dibb Lupton Broomhead's London office, says: "We use the terminals at least once every day. They are a godsend, and the staff are always helpful. However, it would be useful if there was a central computer in the Bankruptcy Court which stored County Court petitions as well as those issued in the High Court."