Initial Delays have knock-on effect in roll out of new Case Management System

An innovative IT system enabling Northern Ireland’s criminal justice agencies to share information is facing delays of up to 18 months before rolling out its second phase.

A report published today (Monday 24 July) by Criminal Justice Inspection has revealed that the failure of agencies to understand and provide the necessary resources to support the Causeway IT programme led to problems in its early stages.
This has meant that the next stage of the process -- which was due to ‘go live’ in April 2007 -- will now not be delivered until 2008.
“Inspectors found these initial delays continue to have a knock on effect by preventing other agencies from linking into the Causeway system on time. On the positive side though, the development of this integrated electronic case management system has improved relationships and working practices between the agencies,” said Kit Chivers, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice for Northern Ireland.
Mr. Chivers explained that while delays were experienced at the beginning as the PSNI developed an interim IT system to allow information to be shared with the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) through Causeway, a long-term solution was now being implemented to assist with electronic case preparation.
“The PSNI has given a commitment to the project to ensure a detailed training programme is developed so the quality of files submitted to the Causeway programme does not suffer as officers switch from one IT system to the other. This should also help prevent problems as the number of officers inputting electronic files increases,” said the Chief Inspector.
The report has also shown work is in hand to address difficulties with the Public Prosecution Service’s element of the system so it can fulfil its role in the project.
An example of the difficulties experienced by PPS was a two month delay in the Causeway programme because insufficient resources were available to take forward a specific task.
“Any delay that occurs whatever its source is concerning as it increases the likelihood of the whole project exceeding its £43m. budget. It also means other criminal justice organisations are unable to fully realise the benefits of the Causeway system,” continued Mr. Chivers.
One of the key benefits Causeway was expected to deliver was a decrease in the time taken to process criminal cases by reducing the number of paper files.
“As stated in Chapter 5 of the Causeway Report, possible potential benefits with regard to the speeding up of the progress of entire cases through the criminal justice system have not as yet been realised. High numbers of Requests for Information (RFIs) from the PPS and the time taken to process these means that a reduction in case processing times is not being fully realised,” said Mr. Chivers.
Inspectors also found that due to a backlog of files awaiting action in some cases one version of a file could exist on the Causeway hub while at the same time, another version of the file existed within the PPS internal system awaiting manual intervention.
The Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice called for the PPS and PSNI to make further efforts after it was revealed that a number of cases were abandoned as they were ‘out of time’ (statute barred).
“We have recommended the PPS together with the PSNI review how Form 1’s, which are applications to extend the time allowed to prosecute a case, are processed as the abandonment of cases because they are out of time rather than for evidential reasons does not serve justice,” concluded Mr. Chivers.