Gremlins in court

Rolls Building fanfare shocked into silence as electrics give up the ghost

It was supposed to be a pioneering project, one that would make London’s courts among the most attractive in the world, but in the end the Rolls Building’s electronic working system simply fizzled out before being abandoned altogether.

Details of why the e-filing system has been dropped are hazy, but practitioners just say it did not work.

Informing court users of the decision, Rolls Building senior operational manager Tim Pollen wrote in a letter: “Initial good progress was made; however, over the past 12-18 months significant problems […] began to emerge. The seriousness of those problems has now become apparent, as has the likely cost of remediation.”

How much exactly is unclear, but some suggest that £10m has been spent on the system since work began in November 2008. That does not count the cost of cancelling an initial government contract, nor starting again with a new system.

One senior clerk said: “It wasn’t properly aligned with the systems most firms and chambers have. It wasn’t web-based. It’s been a very expensive project.”

Not so long ago Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Vos underlined the need for the courts to move away from a paper-based system.
Just weeks after the £300m Rolls Building was opened, Vos J said: “How absurd is it for solicitors to prepare all their documents on a computer system, print them out, file them at court, and then only send them by email when specifically asked?”

It may be absurd, but that is exactly what is happening.