Judge hits out as Portsmouth court plunged into disarray over failing computer system

Portsmouth Magistrates' Court
Portsmouth Magistrates' Court
Acting Sgt Dan McGarrigle, right, and PCSO Hayden Alderson are part of the Project Stark team. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

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STALLING computer systems forced a court to come to a grinding halt as an IT error wrought havoc.

An experienced judge was on the brink of adjourning 19 defendants’ cases to another day when the problem hit at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court yesterday.

Just one defendant had been in the dock by 11.19am after hearings, which start at 10am, were affected by IT outages.

District judge Anne Arnold, who was sitting in court two, said she was ‘simply not’ prepared to have people waiting in court because of the system after she spent two hours unable to access case files.

The judge said: ‘I’ve certainly wasted over two hours today prior to sitting in court achieving absolutely nothing.

‘There comes a time when I’m not prepared to do it anymore.’

Efforts to end a reliance on paper and move to a mainly electronic criminal justice system has seen the judiciary, court staff and lawyers using computer equipment more and more.

But yesterday the judge was left unable to read court papers and duty defence lawyers were not issued with evidence files about their clients until the problem was fixed, meaning the cases could not go on.

Court staff were left struggling to log on to systems to allow hearings to resume at around 11.20am, staving off a move to adjourn all court cases.

The outage is not the first time computer problems have stopped hearings in recent weeks.

Defence lawyer Howard Barrington-Clark, from Cosham’s Wessex Solicitors, said: ‘From judges to court staff to lawyers, the IT system failings drive us up the wall.’

Around 44 cases were listed to be heard in the morning between 10am-1pm in the magistrates’ court.

Courts have upgraded software but the cause of the issue is not clear.

The court did deal with its workload yesterday after hearings resumed but it meant some cases were delayed.

A HMCTS spokesman said: ‘There was a minor IT incident this morning at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court.

‘No hearings were affected and the court is operating as normal.’

HMCTS chief executive Susan Aclan-Hood has previously said IT reform in court was being done with an ‘agile approach to digital development’.