MoJ signs £20m partner for ‘product enhancement’ of controversial Common Platform system

IT firm will help transition system – labelled ‘unworkable’ by critics – into ‘business-as-usual’ operations

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

The Ministry of Justice has signed a £20m contract with an IT firm that will support the delivery of “product enhancements” to the troubled new IT system being rolled out to courts around the country.

HM Courts and Tribunals Service – an executive agency of the MoJ – recently entered into an initial two-year deal with tech consultancy Methods, according to newly published commercial documents. The contract, which can be extended by a further 12-month period, will be worth more than £7m a year to the London-headquartered firm, with a potential total value of £21.5m.

Methods will provide HMCTS with digital professionals to support “product enhancement” for Common Platform – the new IT system for managing cases at courts across England and Wales. The deal is intended to cover conclusion of the technology’s initial nationwide implementation, which is currently due to be completed by the end of the 2022/23 year.

The contract states that the IT provider will deliver “a managed service to provide product enhancement, support and associated service teams to support the design, build and live service of… Common Platform as it transitions from the HMCTS Reform programme into business-as-usual in the digital and technology services division”.

Deployment of the Common Platform case-management system began two years ago, starting with trials undertaken by 18 ‘early adopter’ courts. The platform, which is replacing five separate tools with a unified system, has now been implemented at about 150 courts that hear criminal cases. This represents about two thirds of the intended total.

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The system has been subject of fierce criticism from unions representing courts workers – who last month staged a nine-day strike in protest at issues caused by Common Platform. The walkout, which affected more than 60 locations, came in light of reports from staff that faults with the system have seen case information disappear or fail to record correctly. Among other problems, these issues resulted in someone being held incorrectly held in prison for days – when they should have been released, according to a report from BBC Radio 4.

Announcing plans for the strike last month, Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said that it has become clear that “Common Platform is simply unworkable”.

“It’s adversely affecting our members’ health and their ability to do their jobs and is detrimental to the delivery of justice,” he added. “HMCTS managers should listen to our members and stop the roll out immediately.”

In September, the courts service agreed to pause the rollout of the IT system – but work resumed the following month.

In response to criticism and industrial action in recent weeks, HMCTS has repeatedly issued a statement claiming that “Common Platform is fundamental to modernising the court system – replacing out-of-date systems and freeing up court staff for other vital work”.

“We will continue to work closely with staff to support them through this transition – including listening to their views on the pace of rollout – and want to thank all the judges, court staff and others who have contributed to its design and implementation,” the statement added.

Procurement records show that, prior to the deal with Methods, over the past seven years the MoJ has spent a cumulative total of about £40m across 20 contracts with tech suppliers supporting delivery of the Common Platform programme. The potential £20m-plus value of the latest engagement makes it more than twice as big as any previous deal.


Sam Trendall

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