Hoon reveals IT justice vision

By Robert Lindsay. The Lord Chancellor's deputy, Geoff Hoon, laid out the Government's vision for a computerised criminal justice system at the Labour Party Conference last week.

Hoon revealed that ministers from the Treasury, the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Home Office and the Attorney General were meeting in order to consolidate the planning of the criminal justice system – particularly IT planning.

He said that, in addition, an Integrating Business and Information Systems (IBIS) board of top officials from the three departments and the police “will look at investment in technology with regard to the interests of the system as a whole”.

He warned: “Departments will not be able to spend on new systems until they can justify to other partners that the investment is in the interests of the system as a whole.”

Speaking of the long-term future, he said: “I can imagine a situation where a police officer arrests someone, charges them and enters the details of that charge into a single system which can be accessed by the CPS.

“Arrangements for the case appearing in court could then be communicated electronically to the defence solicitors.”

The conviction could also be recorded on a single database, he said, so that the courts would have instant access to an offender's previous record when sentencing.

He said that under the current system where the courts post conviction details to the prison service, delays meant that courts often did not have a record of the offender's previous convictions when sentenced. “It's a ludicrous waste of money. The only people that benefit are the manufacturers of photocopiers.”

He said the Government was “determined to take steps to begin the process” of computerisation, but recognised that resources would be needed.

The LCD is currently tendering for a private contractor to implement the £170m Libra computer system, which will computerise magistrates courts listings and records.