Go ahead for Woolf despite IT delay

Elizabeth Davidson and John Malpas report. THE IT case management system needed to underpin Lord Woolf's civil justice reforms will not be ready by next April's start date – but the Government plans to press ahead with the reforms anyway.

The hitch was revealed by the Master of the Rolls and his deputy, Vice-Chancellor Sir Richard Scott, at a Civil Justice Council meeting on 12 June.

The computer systems are being installed by the US company EDS, which won a £25m private finance initiative contract to computerise all civil and crown courts in 1997.

Lord Woolf's fast-track and multi-track system based on fixed costs was originally due to be in place this year, but last October the Lord chancellor, Lord Irvine, put back the start date to April 1998.

The Lawyer understands that he is determined not to lose face by letting the start-date slip yet again, despite Lord Woolf's emphasis on the central role IT will play in making his reforms work.

A spokesman for EDS said it had only received instructions to install part of the case management system needed for the Woolf reforms, and those elements would be in place by April. But he added: “Not everything that the various agencies involved want has been finalised.”

An LCD spokesman said: “There never was a deadline for the implementation of the systems in EDS's contact because it was accepted that it was such a complex task.

“It is generally accepted that the IT support will be phased in and there is an advantage to that as it allows staff to familiarise themselves with the system.

“There will be some IT support in at the start and the rest will be manually operated – about 60 extra staff will be redeployed from the court service to be responsible for the operation of the manual system.”

Judicial Studies Board director of studies Judge Paul Collins said: “The Lord Chancellor has decided that it is desirable that, IT or not, there should be a unified set of modern rules of civil procedure operating across the courts as soon as possible.”

He added: “We take the view that the introduction of the new unified county court and high court rules will be of great benefit as they are old and have been rewritten on a piecemeal basis over the years.”