The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has come under fire in parliament after widespread IT disruption wrought chaos on the functioning of the justice system.
The meltdown, which saw several IT systems repeatedly crash over the last few days, prompted difficult questions from Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi to under-secretary of state and conservative MP Lucy Frazer in parliament today.
The disruption has seen thousands of cases across England and Wales delayed, after the courts services primary computer network broke down amid communication failures which started last week.
The IT troubles mean lawyers and judges have been prevented from working, however the MoJ insists no defendants could be released as a result of the network issues, while also assuring no cyberattack has taken place and no data has been lost.
In a statement, the MoJ said: ‘During the past week we have experienced major IT network issues. We apologise to those who have been affected. We know this is unacceptable and how deeply frustrating this has been for our staff and users.’
However network access has been restored to a large number of MoJ sites today, with technology providers Atos and Microsoft both working on remedying the ailing IT network. The initial breakdown meant jurors could not be enrolled and barristers could not enrol for attendance payments. Crucially, courts were unable to know if defendants were due to appear, with many ongoing prosecutions being adjourned.
Responding to questioning in parliament, Lucy Frazer MP, said: ‘Intermittent disruption was caused by an infrastructure failure in our supplier’s data centre. The issue has been that some of our staff in courts and tribunals, the Legal Aid Agency, probation, and MoJ HQ have been unable to log onto their computers. But we have contingency plans in place to make sure the trials can go ahead as planned.’
A question mark hangs over whether the MoJ can continue to maintain basic functions without continued investment. The MoJ is currently investing £1.2bn on a programme aimed at promoting online legal hearings, with the hope of replacing more conventional reliance on paperwork.