Court computer systems have been failing across England as judges and the Crown Prosecution Service struggle to access vital case information held digitally.
The Ministry of Justice has apologised for a failure to a number of its computer systems following reports clerks were unable to access the court’s central management systems this morning.
The Common Platform programme, a shared system between the police, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service and the Crown Prosecution Service, went down limiting access to documents such as witness statements that had not been downloaded in advance.
Part of the Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service’s £1 billion upgrade programme announced last June, the Common Platform was implemented to improve court services and adapt to modern ways of working through new technology.
“There’s lot of cases being delayed but some people are getting on with it with a Blitz spirit… there’s only so much you can do without the information” said Barrister Andrew Keogh, who runs the website Crime Line.
He added: “There’s a lot of money going into this… you would expect a shadow server to pop up.”
The Criminal Justice Secure eMail system (CJSM), a network used by judges and criminal barristers, was also compromised last week leaving 75,000 account holders unable to access their emails and prepare for trials, but according to the Ministry of Justice, 40,000 users’ accounts are now back to normal.
Following the mishap, CJSM users were informed of the issue by email seen by The Daily Telegraph, it read: “We are aware of and resolving a major service degradation to CJSM and apologise for the inconvenience it has caused.
“Engineers have identified a two step resolution: The first step is to restore access to the webmail service, enabling you to send and receive CJSM emails as soon as possible.
“The second step will be to synchronise the contents of your mailbox, this means your mailbox will be temporarily empty while we complete this.
“We estimate the restoration process to take up to two weeks, however we will provide you updates as this progresses over the next few days.”
However one immigration lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “[CSJM] has been intermittently not working for about six months, normally just for a few hours.
“Last week it went completely down. This meant that papers and bundles for trials weren’t being received.”
In a statement to The Register, The Ministry of Justice said: “Around an eighth of users (75,000) of the Criminal Justice secure email system (CJSM) have been affected over the last 36 hours but are now able to send and receive emails again.
“The overwhelming majority (550,000) were unaffected.
“We will be restoring the email history of those affected over the next few days.”
Although the system problems has caused chaos for those in the courts, experts are wary of blaming the issues on a hack.
Jake Moore, Cyber Security Specialist at ESET told The Daily Telegraph: “Introducing new devices into a public facing environment will undoubtedly have teething problems.
“Usually there would be a test environment to iron out any problems like this but if there are strict timescales already in place, this can sometimes be a wishful afterthought.
“It would be a bold statement to suggest there was anything more sinister underlying this situation at this stage but I am sure that they are looking into all possibilities.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: “We apologise to those who have been affected by network issues that we have been experiencing today.
“Contingency plans are in place and courts have continued to operate but we know how frustrating this is for court users.
“We are pressing our suppliers to provide urgent solutions so that services can return to normal as soon as possible.”