electronic tagging for criminals

Computer glitches left criminals without necessary electronic tags, report reveals

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Dozens of criminals and suspects could not be fitted with electronic tags when they should have been because of glitches with a new government computer system, according to a report.

Whitehall’s spending watchdog said the technical problems with the Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) programme were discovered in September 2022 and meant that 35 convicted offenders and defendants had not been fitted with tags, among other errors.

Officials found the multi-million pound digital case management system for courts – known as 'Common Platform' – had failed to send more than 3,000 “important notifications” to other bodies between June 2021 and August 2022, accounting for about 1 per cent of the total.

This happened as the “system could not cope with the volume of notifications”, a National Audit Office (NAO) report, published today (Thursday 23 February), has revealed.

Investigations found 367 of the faults could have “affected justice outcomes” and that “criminal justice processes were disrupted in 23 per cent of these cases”.

The report added that “35 people were not fitted with electronic monitoring tags when they should have been”.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has so far been unable to confirm what crimes the offenders and suspects in question had committed – or had been charged with – which required them to wear tags and how long they had gone without wearing them as a result of the problem.

However, the department insisted that all subjects were fitted with tags as soon as the error was identified.

“We quickly fixed the error and no offences were reported by the 35 defendants who were temporarily untagged,” an MoJ spokesman said.

According to the findings, despite increasing the budget for the £1.3bn court reform programme to reduce the risk of missing deadlines, HMCTS does not “expect to be able to deliver the programme to its current timetable and full scope”.

Common Platform was “delayed and is unpopular with staff, causing stress and sometimes interfering with the smooth running of live court cases”, the NAO said, adding: “Introducing the new platform before it was ready created extra burdens for courts when they were already under pressure.”

Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said staff were “struggling” with a new system “riddled with issues”.

Having the right technology is “vital” but the programme is “falling short of its ambitions” and the public were “suffering the consequences”, she added, as she called on HMCTS to prioritise resolving the problems.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “This has been a complex and challenging programme for HMCTS to deliver, not least due to the impact of the pandemic.

“While the programme has continued to make progress, the decision to roll out the Common Platform without sufficient assurance has put avoidable pressure on the courts at a critical time.”

Earlier this week, E&T reported on a variety of issues facing modern policing and crime prevention.

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