It would take an imaginative New Labour apologist to argue that this government’s IT procurement record has been impressive. From the botched National Programme for IT in the NHS to a cancelled system for processing benefits commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions, the headlines have been unremittingly negative. Closer to home for lawyers, successive justice ministries have blown millions struggling to produce the LIBRA system for magistrates’ courts, £4m in consultants’ fees making a pilot system for the commercial courts, and hundreds of millions on the disastrous National Offender Management IT system, C-NOMIS.A Gazette investigation that has taken eight months and repeated Freedom of Information requests to pull together may reveal some of the reasons why government is so bad at buying IT. Would you be happy if the government decided that going through a proper tender process, gaining quotes from multiple companies against a technical specification, was just too much effort; and your cash was spent on a system that cost nearly five times more than it might have done? Of course not, but it appears that this is how the MoJ bought the case and document management system for the Supreme Court. And perhaps the affair also helps to explain why the justice system now has over 30 case management systems and yet still keeps inventing new ones. In short, the taxpayer keeps shelling out again and again simply to reinvent the wheel.The law lords moved to the new Supreme Court in October and legal services guru Professor Richard Susskind was among those to have lauded the IT system installed there. But they are unlikely to have known that the new court’s case and document management system was procured from a company that has never undertaken a UK courts IT project, and that it was bought through what seems to be a method almost devoid of best practice.Case managementThe company tasked by the MoJ to buy the Supreme Court’s case management was Logica – one of the two companies that has an exclusive agreement to procure IT systems for the MoJ, the other being Atos. Logica and Atos won the contract to buy IT for the MoJ (then the Department for Constitutional Affairs) and its agencies (such as HM Courts Service) under the DISC contract in 2006, through which the two businesses replaced a plethora of underperforming companies.Logica declined to answer questions put to it by the Gazette about any aspect of the Supreme Court procurement process. We understand from talking to suppliers that the company sent out invitations to tender for the Supreme Court’s IT system back in 2008, and according to FoI answers from the MoJ, four companies were ‘considered’. Two of these were small operators that had previously either built existing courts IT case management systems or pilots using relatively inexpensive software – Visionhall and Design Systems. Two were major document management businesses – Open Text and Objective.Logica issued technical briefs to possible Supreme Court suppliers, but it seems that the tender process quickly unravelled. Objective dropped out after Logica changed the technical specification. Three companies ended up trying to pitch against the specification, but Logica only got proper pricing from one company – Open Text, the company that won the contract. It received a ballpark figure from one of the other companies, Visionhall, and nothing from Design Systems. Design Systems’ director, Bill Dowton, says he was subsequently told by Logica when he tried to offer a quote that his company’s bid had been ‘overlooked’. Despite these apparently clear deficiencies in the process, Logica then told the MoJ that it had obtained ‘indicative’ pricing and that it had completed a project costing and estimation service.Contacted by the Gazette, Open Text could not name any UK court installation of its system. Open Text is not even the government’s preferred document management firm – that company is Documentum. After the Gazette made enquiries to Open Text, the company’s PR man declined to comment on whether Open Text had installed anything like the system now in place in the Supreme Court anywhere else. He did say that he thought similar installations were in place at the European Court of Human Rights and the Supreme Court of the Netherlands. This would be impressive, if it were accurate – though the Netherlands is using something similar, the ECHR only uses Open Text for document management.Of course that does not necessarily mean the company was incapable of providing a good system, and there is no reason to believe that what has been created for the Supreme Court is not good, or even excellent. But that system came at a price, and must have needed a lot of expensive tinkering – FoI answers say that Logica was paid £910,000 to deliver the system, and neither Logica nor the government will confirm how much went to Open Text and how much to Logica. The MoJ also refuses to say how much the system will cost to run a year, leaving it unclear whether that sum includes up to 10% as a de facto third-party procurement fee Logica charges to the government. The fact that Logica pockets such a fee was only uncovered through FoI enquiries. In respect of what effectively amounts to a mark-up, the MoJ stated: ‘It has been accepted that there are associated costs when third-party services and/or products are purchased to meet a new requirement, that is risk in the solution, administrative costs and profit. Up to 10% is applied to pass through costs to reflect this.’What is surprising is that no one appears to have thought that perhaps one of more than 30 case management systems already floating about in the justice system might be up to the job. At least one of these was built by Design Systems, which claims it was ‘overlooked’ before it could quote. The other small firm in the frame, Visionhall, built the successful pilot for the Commercial Court in 2006 and was involved in working on 2010’s Business Court (more of which later).Ignoring the myriad other IT systems in play is a shame, because both Visionhall and Design Systems estimate that they could have shaved some £700,000 off the sum charged to the government for the system it eventually got, and claim their yearly maintenance charges would have been significantly lower too. As maintenance is often a percentage of build, this seems highly likely.Whether the Supreme Court – and the taxpayer – got value for money from this whole process is highly questionable, therefore. For a start, one must query a process that pays a percentage of the total fee to the procuring company.Prices for comparisonDesign Systems, the company that did not get to provide a price, has built several case management systems for the government, including the only system the Supreme Court’s IT was specifically built to integrate with – the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council’s system. Its director cannot understand why his company’s bid disappeared from Logica’s radar.Dowton told the Gazette: ‘We tendered for the system for the new Supreme Court and expected, and were told, as the incumbent for half of it, that we would be on the shortlist. This never happened. We were told, before we had the opportunity to submit any pricing, and rather abruptly, that “Logica has decided not to pursue the use of your organisation’s products and services further”.‘When pressed for reasons, Logica initially refused to make any written response but in a telephone conversation said “there were other products which were a closer fit to the requirements we were looking for – both the MoJ requirements and our internal commercial needs”. [When] I finally met the Logica director responsible [I] was told that our offering being “overlooked” was a mistake and that we “fell through the cracks”.’Logica refused to answer questions about why it went with the Open Text bid and closed the door on Design Systems. When the Gazette asked the MoJ to explain why it bought the most expensive kit on the table, it responded: ‘Logica carried out the procurement taking into account the business requirements and wider MoJ IT Strategy and as part of a Project Costing and Estimation Service exercise. Logica produced a product selection report which states the approach taken in regards to evaluation criteria [including] cost, strategic fit, delivery timescales, risk profile of the supplier and ability to support the system.’The MoJ told the Gazette that ‘indicative costs for the shortlisted systems were provided to MoJ by Logica in their options evaluation and costing report’ – yet Logica only had ‘indicative’ pricing based on a ballpark figure from just one alternative supplier.In respect of selection criteria, says the MoJ, ‘suppliers were required to respond to the Statement of Requirements document indicating how their product met the requirements out of the box or with standard configuration. They were also required to state if there were any areas that needed further bespoke work such as integration with other products or event scripting to meet the requirement.’ But it can be argued that the system procured was the least ‘fitted’ system in the mix – at the very least, Visionhall and Design Systems already understood UK courts and had built systems for them.Logica’s refusal to comment makes it difficult to draw any definitive conclusions. But it appears that the company created a brief asking for systems that fitted as easily as possible into the UK courts, aligned as closely as possible with MoJ strategy, and then bought the most expensive system it saw from a company that had never built a system for UK courts.External contractorsBut it would be wrong simply to direct questions at Logica. The MoJ bought into this process, and it also has a number of external contractors working for it that negotiate with external companies supplying IT. They are often the ones who liaise with companies like Logica and Open Text; they are the ones who manage the projects; and they are the ones whom civil servants trust to deliver value.Buying something seemingly so overpriced for the Supreme Court just might have made sense if those consultants and internal civil service counterparts tasked with managing these projects thought they would use this as a pilot for a larger-scale courts case and document system.But this seems unlikely to be the case. Right now there is yet another case and document management system being piloted in the commercial courts, which is being built from scratch based on technology that could end up costing the government a fortune. Logica has nothing to do with it, as it is being run by individual external contractors and internal staff – but yet again it seems the wheel is being reinvented.A key point to note about the system being prepared for the new Business Court – E-working – is that it is based on Adobe commercial products, but no one has made public what Adobe might earn from a wider rollout of such a system or what it might cost to run. Nor has anyone involved in the pilot detailed why this set-up, rather than any existing or previously piloted system, was chosen. Yet when the Gazette attended a stakeholders’ meeting on the project, statements were made about how the system could be ‘extended’ beyond London, possibly into the key regions.With luck, someone will read this and ask pointed questions about why the case and document management pilot for the Business Court looks set to cost millions, when perhaps it too could be built on systems already in existence, for a fraction of the cost.
DownloadsDownload the data page belowData page 21 January 2010 (187kb) The data page is financial rates and data compiled for the Law Society Gazette by Moneyfacts Group, the UK’s largest supplier of savings and mortgage data.
The lord chief justice emphasised the importance of trial by jury last week as the Court of Appeal overturned two High Court decisions that trials could proceed without a jury. Sir Igor Judge said that judge-alone trials should only proceed ‘as a last resort’. In J, S, M v R, Judge noted that two conditions must be met under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 before a juryless trial can be ordered: there must be a ‘real and present danger’ that jury tampering will take place; and the impact on the jury and cost of providing protection must be too high. Judge ruled that, while the judge at Sheffield Crown Court had met the first condition – that there was a genuine risk of jurors being suborned – the impact and cost of protecting jurors for the two weeks that the trial was expected to last was not enough to fulfil the second condition. He said: ‘The trial of a serious criminal offence without a jury remains and must remain the decision of last resort, only to be ordered when the court is sure (not that it entertains doubts, suspicions or reservations) that the statutory conditions are fulfilled.’ In a second appeal, Judge overturned a decision to allow a trial at Northampton Crown Court to be heard without a jury because of attempted jury tampering in an area where jurors and the public gathered to smoke. Judge said it would be ‘simple’ to prevent the threat. Although the trials are ongoing, Judge took the unusual step of publishing anonymised, reportable copies of the judgments last week because of the important public interest principles at stake. Since the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which made provision for juryless trials to avoid jury tampering, only one serious criminal case has been heard without a jury. This resulted in John Twomey and three others being convicted in March of a £1.75m robbery at a Heathrow warehouse.
The Law Society has welcomed the High Court’s ruling that the fast-track deportation of foreign nationals, which did not allow enough time for them to seek legal advice, is unlawful. In January 2010, the Home Office widened its policy of waiving the usual 72-hour notice period that it gave individuals who had been refused permission to remain in the UK, before seeking to remove them. Medical Justice, a body that provides medical and legal advice to people facing removal, challenged the policy. In a witness statement given in support of that challenge, the Law Society said the move would ‘seriously inhibit’ a person’s access to justice, as it would remove their ability to contact their legal representative and inhibit their right to appropriate judicial remedies. Earlier this week, the High Court ruled the policy was unlawful and deprived people of access to justice, and should be quashed. The Home Office, which was given leave to appeal, said it was ‘disappointed’ with the decision and will appeal. Law Society president Linda Lee said: ‘I am extremely pleased with the High Court’s decision that will now put an end to this unjust practice.’ ‘We are renowned throughout the world for our justice system, and the fast-track deportation system seriously undermined our credibility as supporters of human rights for all,’ she said.
Two-thirds of top-50 law firms have a Twitter account, but some may be ‘damaging their brand’ by failing to actually tweet anything, a report has suggested. The study by web consultancy Intendance found that 66% of firms had set up at least one account on Twitter. However, of the 48 accounts, 19 had issued no tweets at all, despite some having hundreds of followers. Intendance said the figures suggested ‘many firms have simply jumped on the social media bandwagon without putting much thought into how to use Twitter to their advantage. By neglecting potential followers, those with dormant accounts could even be damaging their brand’. It added that failing to tweet once an account was set up was akin to ‘inviting friends to your new flat, and not having any furniture or decorations’. The study found that the best law firm Twitter account belonged to magic circle firm Allen & Overy, followed by City and national firms DLA Piper and Eversheds.
Spare a thought for Mark Harper, junior minister at the Cabinet Office who is responsible for political and constitutional reform. A chartered accountant by training, he finds himself responsible for reducing the number of his fellow MPs; for introducing fixed-term parliaments; and for answering the unanswerable West Lothian question. But however demanding these issues must be, they pale into insignificance compared with the problem of allowing prisoners to vote. Five days before Christmas, Harper slipped out a written ministerial statement announcing an end to the blanket ban on voting by prisoners. Offenders sentenced to less than four years in custody would retain their right to vote, he explained, but the sentencing judge would be able to disenfranchise them if appropriate. And why four years? That had always been regarded as the dividing line between short-term and long-term prisoners. The government thought that granting the vote to prisoners sentenced to less than four years would be sufficient to comply with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in a case brought against the UK by John Hirst, a convicted prisoner. Accepting Hirst’s arguments in 2005, the court’s grand chamber did not set a threshold below which the human rights convention would allow prisoners to vote. It merely said that ‘a general, automatic and indiscriminate restriction on a vitally important convention right must be seen as falling outside any acceptable margin of appreciation’ – the room for manoeuvre that all governments have. But the coalition regarded a four-year sentence as the very lowest threshold that it could get away with. That much is clear from what Harper told MPs in a Westminster Hall debate on 11 January. ‘We set a limit which we believe is the minimum required to comply with our obligations,’ the minister said. ‘We will do what is legally necessary and no more.’ Enter Jack Straw. The former justice secretary was seen as largely responsible for failing to implement the Hirst ruling while Labour was in power. Straw knew there were no votes in it – except, I suppose, from prisoners. Now in opposition, he teamed up with the disaffected Tory David Davis this month to secure a debate on the issue, using new powers that give backbenchers greater control of the parliamentary timetable. Two days after Straw was told that time would be found for his debate, Downing Street pressed the panic button. Minsters briefed the BBC that they were now hoping to reduce the voting threshold to one year. Asked whether this would satisfy the human rights convention, the prime minister’s spokesman said on 20 January that setting the threshold was a matter for legal advice. But of course the government has already taken legal advice. As Harper had told parliament little more than a week earlier, four years was regarded as the minimum required to comply with Britain’s treaty obligations – which require the government to ‘abide by’ the final judgment in any case to which the UK is a party. A one-year voting threshold would not comply with the convention. This is confirmed by a ruling from the European court last April. In a case brought against Austria by a murderer called Helmut Frodl, the court said that ‘disenfranchisement may only be envisaged for a rather narrowly defined group of offenders serving a lengthy term of imprisonment’. That cannot mean everyone serving more than a year. So where does non-compliance leave the government? Facing a compensation bill of £160m, the prime minister told parliament on 3 November. But commentators such as Adam Wagner of the UK Human Rights Blog find David Cameron’s figures implausible. There are certainly plenty of prisoners who have lodged claims at the Strasbourg court. The solicitors’ firm Leigh Day represents 550. And, upholding a claim by two Scottish prisoners on 23 November, the court said it had received 2,500 similar applications. That number would continue to grow, the court noted, especially if the law was not changed in time for elections in May. However, the court’s priority was clearly to get the UK to change the law for the future rather than to compensate prisoners for the past. No damages were awarded to the two Scottish prisoners, Robert Greens and a man known as MT. The government was ordered to pay some of their costs but the court made it clear that no costs would be awarded in the outstanding cases, which were all put on hold. All this was subject to the condition that ministers introduce amending legislation – which they must do before the summer recess. Exactly what would be needed to comply with the Hirst ruling was left for the government to work out. Of course, the prisoners’ applications would be restored if the government failed to legislate. But even then, the court seemed to be saying, there might be no financial penalties. That is not very helpful to the government, which needs to tell its supporters that inaction would be costly. And it gets worse. Last week, the court decided that yet another murderer – this time an Italian called Franco Scoppola – had been wrongly deprived of his right to vote. Italian law sets the threshold for permanent disenfranchisement at five years’ imprisonment, although shorter sentences attract a temporary voting ban. Again, it was the indiscriminate ban on voting that fell foul of the convention. This judgment is not binding on the UK. But the way forward is perfectly clear. Ministers must abandon the idea of a rigid threshold. No prisoner should lose the right to vote unless the sentencing judge says so.
Join the Law Society Gazette Human Rights LinkedIn sub-group. Human rights lawyers could be called upon to audit big businesses for possible human rights abuses, if proposals submitted last week to the UN Human Rights Council are endorsed. A six-year UN-commissioned study on business and human rights has concluded that companies should regularly carry out ‘human rights due diligence’ to ‘identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their adverse human rights impacts’. Multinationals with operations in conflict zones would be especially in need of expert audit, the study went on to suggest. Magic circle firms Clifford Chance and Linklaters, and City firm Herbert Smith provided advice and support to the study, which was carried out by Professor John Ruggie, the UN secretary general’s special representative for business and human rights. Ruggie said that effective remedies for human rights abuses by companies must be available in all UN jurisdictions. ‘Unless states take appropriate steps to investigate, punish and redress business-related human rights abuses when they do occur, the state duty to protect can be rendered weak or even meaningless,’ he said. ‘The failure to enforce existing laws that directly or indirectly regulate business respect for human rights is often a significant legal gap in state practice. ‘Such laws might range from non-discrimination and labour laws to environmental, property, privacy and anti-bribery laws. Therefore, it is important for states to consider whether such laws are currently being enforced effectively.’ Ruggie suggested that barriers to judicial remedy arise where the costs of bringing a claim are too high; where government support is insufficient to assist in claims being brought; where there are inadequate class action or collective action procedures; and where state prosecutors lack the resources to investigate business involvement in human rights crimes. Ruggie said that formal endorsement of his work, which will be considered by the UN Human Rights Council in June, would ensure that businesses know what is expected of them, and would help investors and society measure progress in human rights protection. He said larger companies’ human rights due diligence would usually require external experts, including lawyers. ‘The more complex the situation and its implications for human rights, the stronger is the case for the enterprise to draw on independent expert advice,’ he said. The report set down a number of principles that aim to provide an ‘authoritative global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse human rights impacts linked to business activity’.
A series of talks on the future of the legal profession will start this week as the Solicitors Regulation Authority goes on the road. Around 2,500 lawyers are expected to attend the 2011 roadshows across the country – starting at the Law Society headquarters in Chancery Lane tomorrow. Top of the agenda at the two-hour sessions will be discussions on the new outcomes-focused approach to regulation and the proposed licensing of alternative business structures. Backed by a series of webinars, the 15 events, to be held throughout the country, are designed to prepare law firms for the big changes that will come into being on 6 October. After the opening presentations, delegates will also have the chance to attend three one-hour workshops focusing on the new SRA Handbook; on risk, supervision and enforcement, and authorisation. SRA Chief Executive Antony Townsend, a keynote speaker along with SRA board chair Charles Plant tomorrow, said: ‘This year’s extensive programme of roadshows will give us the opportunity to meet the profession to explain how the new system will work in practice, and to answer questions face-to-face. ‘The workshops should prove particularly interesting and the people conducting them are looking forward to some challenging sessions.’ Places at all the roadshows were booked within days of being released, but it is still possible to book a place on the Roadshow Recap webinar, to be held on Thursday, June 30. For more information, see the SRA page.
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Get your free guest access SIGN UP TODAY Subscribe now for unlimited access To continue enjoying Building.co.uk, sign up for free guest accessExisting subscriber? LOGIN Stay at the forefront of thought leadership with news and analysis from award-winning journalists. Enjoy company features, CEO interviews, architectural reviews, technical project know-how and the latest innovations.Limited access to building.co.ukBreaking industry news as it happensBreaking, daily and weekly e-newsletters Subscribe to Building today and you will benefit from:Unlimited access to all stories including expert analysis and comment from industry leadersOur league tables, cost models and economics dataOur online archive of over 10,000 articlesBuilding magazine digital editionsBuilding magazine print editionsPrinted/digital supplementsSubscribe now for unlimited access.View our subscription options and join our community