23/01/2019 14:55 GMT

Minister Denies IT Chaos In Courts System Led To Criminals Being Wrongly Released

Dozens of trials were adjourned after computer systems failed.

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A justice minister has denied reports criminals have been wrongly released due to a failure of computer systems at hundreds of courts.

Responding to an urgent question in the Commons after it emerged dozens of cases had been disrupted due to widespread IT issues, Lucy Frazer apologised for all those affected by the issue, but told MPs: “To clarify incorrect reporting, criminals have not gone free as a result.”

The disruption, which began last week, led to numerous adjournments and delays, after the main computer system used by courts in England and Wales went down.

A wide range of “critical functions” were affected, including prison meetings being cancelled, lawyers and clerks being unable to access important documents and probation workers being asked to take annual leave as they could not do their job.

The Criminal Bar Association, which represents legal professionals, estimated about 30 trials had been postponed as a result.

Chris Henley QC, chairman of the organisation, said: “The system is on its knees.”

On Wednesday, Frazer said 90% of staff had had their working computer systems restored and that she expected everything to be fully operational by Thursday morning.

She said the government would be meeting Atos – one of the contractors which runs the databases – to determine what went wrong.

She added: “We will be looking very closely at the contracts which include penalty clauses.

Henley blamed cuts to the justice system for the problems.  He said: “Short-term savings often result in wider costs to the public purse.

“Prolonged IT failures do a disservice to the victims of crime and their families who may have already suffered the costs of delays from an already overstretched, chronically underfunded, broken criminal justice system.”

The IT system is part of a £280m investment into a common platform that links courts, police and prosecutors across the country. It has faced several delays since it was first implemented in 2014.

The Ministry of Justice admitted last week 75,000 judges and lawyers who use the criminal justice secure email system were locked out.

There have also been ongoing problems reported in the probation service.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson stressed the issues were not a result of a cyber attack.

The department added: “We apologise to those who have been affected by the network issues that we have been experiencing over recent days.”