MPs slam CPS over £11m waste

THE CROWN Prosecution Service (CPS) has abandoned its flagship computer system after spending £10.6m of taxpayers' money on it – to the fury of MPs on the powerful Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The embarrassing admission that the Scope case management system has been axed was made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Dame Barbara Mills QC, to the committee last Monday. It came on the eve of the PAC's launch of an investigation into what it calls the “chaotic” criminal justice system.

The CPS management of IT is one of a whole range of issues which PAC intends to tackle in its review, which was formally announced over the weekend.

The committee's chairman David Davis MP, said it would conduct a cross-departmental investigation into the entire criminal justice system.

But he said the problems affecting the CPS and its interaction with other elements of the criminal justice system would be a crucial element of the inquiry.

The committee will examine:

the “significant failure in IT” at the CPS and elsewhere;

why up to 75 per cent of briefs are returned by prosecuting counsel whose replacements are “not up to the job”;

why “public expenditure on defence counsel in the higher courts is twice as high as that on prosecution counsel” and

why costs are poorly controlled – particularly criminal legal aid eligibility.

During her appearance before the committee last week, Mills faced a barrage of questions about Scope's cancellation.

She said she regretted that the system had not been scrapped earlier – describing it as “not user-friendly” and having been superseded by newer technology.

The CPS began introducing the system in 1991 and had spent £10.6m installing it in 53 of its 98 branches before the decision was taken to scrap it.

It had originally been scheduled to finish in 1994.

The estimated cost of the entire project grew from £8m at its outset to £22m, if the £6m earmarked for staff and training costs are taken into account.

The CPS now aims to introduce a national computer system within two years, funded by a private finance initiative, although no contractor will be chosen until after the publication of Sir Iain Glidewell's independent review of the CPS, which is due out in March.

During Mills' questioning the Tory MP Charles Wardle asked: “When is your profession going to come to terms with technology and use it to benefit the taxpayer?”

Another MP member of the committee described the decision to install Scope as “awful”.