The Ministry of Justice (MoJ)’s leading civil servant Sir Richard Heaton has called in Atos’s CEO over a sweeping IT systems outage that led to courtroom chaos across the country. The outage could lead to major fines.
Junior justice minister Lucy Frazer blamed an “infrastructure failure in our supplier’s data centre.” Sir Heaton will “write personally to all members of the judiciary” she told Parliament, adding: “We will look carefully at… penalty clauses.”
The outage caused court hearings and cases to be delayed because jurors couldn’t enrol in cases and witness statements were inaccessible, after a dedicated courtroom wifi system and email service began to fail mid-last week.
Courts IT Outage: Who’s to Blame?
Shadow Justice Minister Yasmin Qureshi responded in Parliament: “The chair of the Criminal Bar Association described our courts system as being on its knees'” following the failure. She blamed “savage cuts to the MoJ budget”.
Large-scale Government data centre provider Ark Data Centres told us: “We note that you have observed that it is a matter of public record that Ark Data Centres was awarded the MoJ FITS data centre contract in 2013, but that contract expired some time ago.”
“We have, however, consulted with our Crown Hosting joint venture partner and Framework Authority, the Cabinet Office, who have permitted us to comment in general terms that there have been no infrastructure failures at Ark data centres that have caused any service interruptions to our public sector clients.”
Microsoft, meanwhile, refused to comment and referred comment to the MoJ.
While Atos official statement on the issue is: “We take our role as a supplier to the MoJ very seriously and continue to work closely with them on this matter. Improvements have been made while we work intensively to resolve the underlying issue.”
Defective MoJ IT Systems Stalls Justice
Issue with MoJ systems started last week when legal practitioners were unable to access court Wi-Fi or secure email services used by the MoJ. The problems were far reaching as they affected the Crown Prosecution Service, Crown courts, the criminal magistrates and civil country courts.
Reports in the The Law Society Gazette show just how dysfunctional the justice system gets when its IT systems are not functioning properly. Several individuals attending Scarborough Magistrates’ Court for minor civil offences were left waiting on the IT systems to come back online so they could make declarations about vehicle offences.
“These poor souls were left hanging around all morning, until 1pm, when they were advised that the systems were still not back up. Two of them agreed to come back on an adjourned date, 14 days later, but one of them explained that he couldn’t take further time off work.” The Law Society Gazette reports.
As the MoJ works through the process of restoring their IT systems, the scale of the issue becomes more evident. To date they have restored access to 309 MoJ websites and they expect to have all HMCTS sites operational by today.
Funding and Resilience
MP Anna Soubry blamed a lack of funding for the ongoing crisis: “The simple truth of it is that if we had a better, more fully funded system, there would be proper back-ups and this rumbling problem would have been sorted out a long time ago.”