Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ominous Start

I have previously mentioned the CPS grand plan to use electronic files 'as far as the door of the court' . Now I am no mindless cynic, and I like to give new ideas a chance to work, but this is, after all, a government IT system, a phrase that strikes fear and trepidation into a taxpayer's heart.

Today, in one case,  the prosecutor not only lacked any kind of a file but also lacked any idea of where it might be, since the system either had no document trail or alternatively had no users with any idea how to find it.

I made the customary remarks deploring delay, but in the interests of justice we decided to grant just seven days' adjournment, with a warning endorsed on the court file that on the next occasion the case should either go ahead or be binned..

Fingers crossed.


  1. In my own area or "cluster", we had the farcical scene of a CPS prosecutor's tablet device dying on him, and when he tried to plug it in to recharge the battery from the court supply, having this refused as it required a separate budget authorisation. You couldn't make it up!

  2. Having spent a lifetime building computer systems, I have found it strange that the last people to be consulted about how it should work are those who actually use it.

    1. Having at one stage of life looked at accounting systems I found that almost always there were two versions of how they worked:
      a) How managers described them as operating, and
      b) How the people who actually operated them did so.

      I get the impression that government IT systems are originally designed using version a) and then eventually shown to people on the ground who point out that is not how things are done and why the system will not work. The developers are then told to make some of the myriad modifications that cause all the cost over-runs, and operational failures.

    2. In consultancy work, the intention is to hang out the job for as long as possible. What you describe is a typical method of achieving this. Only involving senior management (who know nothing of day-to-day operations) gives a valid excuse to boost the costs.

  3. @VBW
    The last people to be asked should be the users of the existing process. They'll want it changed to match their existing processes that had been created for a paper and ink process.

    If managers weren't lazy and had some understanding of inputs and desired outputs, they could and should design the simplest process basd on the use of the new technology not ape the old processes.

    The users are then trained how to use the new system.

    All the modifications users ask for do is remove the advantages of new technology, slow everything up and make future upgrades a pain

    1. Have to disagree entirely. A computer system should do what the users want it to do, not vice versa

      Having been on the periphery of the birth of a computer system for magistrates courts (which actually started in the 80s), I know that the system that eventually became LIBRA was designed with input from the higher echelons of management and not those staff "at the coal face". That's why it isn't very good!

    2. It's grim up North JP15 April 2012 at 15:28

      @Unknown - disagree with you. A system should do what the organisation wants it to do. Asking users is a good way but not the only way of doing this. A lot of systems in the CJS were good at providing a way of working for the users who had some input into designing the output but the organisations failed to insist that the way it worked was mandatory for all users. Then you fall into the trap of geographically disparate users wanting the system to do the same thing but slightly different because "they was how they did it before". One system = one set of processes. You cannot work on end users alone as, and I know from experience, that management want stats out of systems and these are the biggest headache to bolt on afterwards.

  4. AnotherNorthernJP13 April 2012 at 10:25

    I agree with both ABV and Anonymous!

    My experience is in the NHS that many home grown systems were devised by users that did what exactly what was required. The problems were that these systems were unique, mutually incompatible and relied on one precarious in house support. The commercial systems designed to replace them did not have the same functionality and often had important defects that caused serious problems for the user. This was because they were designed by managers and programmers who had no direct experience of the field in which the computer system was to operate.

    On the other hand too many individuals would reject or find fault with bought in systems that could not perform 100% of what they wanted. Often change of practice could overcome some of these difficulties.

    I am sure the situation in courts is the same. Having just had to move court I can see a totally different method of working.
    Let us hope the new file system beds in and is given a chance. Once it has a bad name it will never recover.

  5. I, too, have been in the software development business since its stone age. Yes, there are strong arguments to be made for doing things a new way, and as well for automating the old, tried-and-true way. Both approaches can provide a usable system and some eventual improvement.

    But there is no excuse for not anticipating these (entirely typical) start-up difficulties and having the staff and the solutions already in place to deal with them.

    It is not enough to cry "RTFM!" when things go south, because all too often there is no FM to R, or it is out-of-date/wrong/unreadable to begin with.

    And the idea of actually formally training end users has hardly ever made headway with anyone holding the purse strings.

    Somehow we always mange to muddle through, though. Sigh.

  6. We have been trying to get a secure email account since the beginning of the year. It seems to be an almost impossible task, which is a shame as I'm a big supporter of T3.

    But, because nobody I know of has secure email the prosecution are printing everything anyway. That should be okay, but for some reason they can only print documents half the normal size, which makes handwritten police notes totally incomprehensible. For that reason, I have noticed that I'm having to list more trials with extra witnesses required who I do not expect to need but as I simply cannot read their evidence I cannot agree to the evidence being read out in court!

    1. Nerd for Justice18 April 2012 at 07:44

      This is just gut feel, but maybe your prosecution colleagues could check their printer settings and/or page setup properties.

      I once had a similar problem, which turned out to be because the machine was set to print on some paper size other than A4. Windows and the printer then adjusted the printout to cope. Setting paper type to A4 fixed the problem in a jiffy.

  7. Has anyone sorted out the problem that the prisons won't let you visit with a laptop that can access the Internet - the LSC won't pay for print-outs - and the CPS won't provide material in printed form?

  8. This has kicked in at my police station.I send the MG forms off electronically and then print off a copy as well to put in the file to put with the "wet forms" (stupid expression meaning hand-written statements).That way when the CPS mess up I don't have to do them all again.I'm sure this is meant to save everyone time,but let's guess what might happen?

  9. It has to go this way eventually. Though there will be scary anecdotes, there is much more chance of a computer database being properly backed up than there is of paper records (remember that fire in a document repository not so long ago?) And it will all get a lot easier as the last generation of computer-phobic workers dies out.

    But I do feel for you all during the transition period :-)

  10. And if the defence could not find their file would an adjournment have been granted? I suspect no.

  11. am amazed that the lawyer didnt just blame the police officer OIC for failing to inform him where the file was....

  12. I had to endue this sort of farce the other day.
    1. no plugs near by- so after an hour or two the lap tops konked out.
    2. Defence are not geared up
    3. alright if things were straightforward but anything not requiring a one word answer- no answer.

    Whilst it might work for the very straightforward guilty plea . I have doubts about the rest.

  13. When my work takes me to a remote county court, as it sometimes does, if I take my laptop I also take a long extension lead. And I plug it in without asking "May I?" as if it were a matter of course. And to hell with health and safety, blah, blah, blah.

    And at the socket-end of the lead I have a short four-gang the use of which I offer to the other lawyers for their laptops, so that by the time the usher might protest there is a powerful leave-it-alone lobby, probably including at least one prominent figure in that court.

    Works every time.


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