Costs spiral as UK courts IT project is reviewed

A budget blowout is affecting the overhaul of Justice Department computing

The UK government has admitted that fresh delays have hit its scandal-hit Libra project, which aims to provide a case management computer system and infrastructure for magistrates courts.

Libra was initiated in 1998 and has seen repeated delays and cost hikes. Last June, the Commons Public Accounts Committee found that Libra was set to cost £442 million (NZ$1.27 billion), plus £40 million a year in support costs for the eight-and-a-half year programme — up from the original £146 million price tag for 10 years.

Figures issued by ministers earlier this year revealed that a total of £327.55 million had already been spent on Libra between 2000-01 and 2005-06.

The roll-out of Libra systems was halted at the end of February — when just 23 of the 370 magistrates courts in England and Wales had installed the new systems — pending a review.

But further delays to the project have been revealed in an annual report from the former Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA), now the Ministry of Justice.

“The project has been subject to delays following a number of external factors, including supplier delay and a pause to deployment in order to re-write aspects of the resulting functionality,” Alex Allan, former permanent secretary at the DCA and MoJ, said in the report.

Her Majesty’s Court Service, the branch of the MoJ that administers the court system, had reduced the operational impact of the delays by continuing to use the legacy systems and work-arounds that Libra was expected to replace.

Allan said HM Court Service’s internal audit had reported improvements in the reliability and stability of Libra since its installation at court level but there were “continuing issues” over accounting functionality and the impact of work-arounds on performance. The report adds: “The Management Information System (MIS) requirements have developed and changed during the lifetime of the project, and further work is being taken to ensure the new system adequately supports the business needs.”

National roll-out of Libra is now expected by the end of 2008, a year later than Allan last year told the Public Accounts Committee it would take.

In HM Court Service’s own annual report, chief executive Sir Ronald De Witt added: “The current project is continuing to work on the application development to support case management and fine accounting, and to provide consistent and up-to-date management information.”

The project had delivered IT infrastructure into all magistrates’ courts, with common office products, secure email, internet access and provision of an internal intranet, De Witt added.

Libra has been procured through a range of contracts, with infrastructure supplied by Fujitsu Services under a £265 million private finance initiative contract which ended in March, when IT infrastructure contracts across DCA were consolidated into deals with Atos Origin and LogicaCMG in the department’s DISC (development, innovation and support contracts) programme, which is set to be worth up to £500 million.

Supplier STL is contracted to provide Libra’s case management software — now Java/Oracle rather than Microsoft .Net based — and a migration application to transfer data to the new system, in a deal expected to be worth £34.6 million, of which £9.5 million will be spent in 2007-08.

Accenture is to install and support the STL application software, and to develop and host the management information system software, under an £85.5 million contract, of which £16.23 million will be spent in 2007-08. The STL and Accenture elements of Libra are set to be wrapped into the DISC contract with DISC application services supplier LogicaCMG.

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Tags managementLibrauk justice ministry

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