back to article England's top judge lashes out at 'Science Museum' grade court IT

England and Wales’ top judge has moaned that HM Courts and Tribunal Service’s (HMCTS) IT systems “more obviously belong in the Science Museum” than courtrooms across the land. In a speech delivered at the London HQ of law firm Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer last night, the Lord Chief Justice, Ian Burnett, described how courts’ …

  1. Pete 2 Silver badge

    On the up-side

    > courts’ systems “sit in splendid technological isolation, unable to talk to each other or anyone in the outside world.”

    That makes them very difficult to hack in to. Maybe more I.T. systems, particularly those that control critical parts of the national infrastructure, should follow this example.

    1. Flakk Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: On the up-side

      ^ So very much this. Beer for you.

    2. Stumpy

      Re: On the up-side

      ... but, but, but ... how could the lawyers, judges, et. al. 'work from home'? if that were the case, M'lud?

      1. Christian Berger Silver badge

        Trivial...

        Once you have a trivial document format, you can either just transfer the files via simple protocols like FTP (over VPN of course) or you can use VNC to remotely use a computer.

        1. Daniel von Asmuth Bronze badge
          Windows

          Re: Trivial...

          Nice idea, except that theire are no trivial document formats, only legacy formats like various derivatives of ASCII and EBCDIC.

          FTP over TCP over IP over Ethernet or ATM? Hardly a simple protocol! You may have nmore success with Kermit over serial lines.

          P.S. I wonder what kind of 'Science Museum grade IT' the UK justice is using? Analytical Engines? Enigma machines? Sinclair Spectra? BBC Micros?

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: On the up-side

      "That makes them very difficult to hack in to."

      That was my immediate reaction. In the case of court documents there's not only the risk of data being copied, there are obvious incentives to change or delete documents. And that might not just be the result of deliberate hacking; the Atlanta ransomware incident resulted in some permanent loss of data: https://www.myajc.com/news/local/atlanta-police-recovering-from-breach-years-dashcam-video-lost/dowuJGBMcW7PLOdK0UhgJJ/

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: On the up-side

        And that might not just be the result of deliberate hacking; the Atlanta ransomware incident resulted in some permanent loss of data

        Any electronic filing system that is subject to ransomware is of course unfit for purpose, built on Microsoft "technology" (do I repeat myself) and the consultancy who built it should be decimates (i.e. 1 of every 10 people shot at random) in a public place pour encourager les autres.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: On the up-side

        "the Atlanta ransomware incident resulted in some permanent loss of data"

        It should have resulted in some permanent loss of jobs and liberty too.

        That's what backup systems are for and the fact that they didn't have them speaks volumes about their attitude to data integrity

    4. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Yes, plus...

      ...for court documents having them as simple high resolution bitmaps with OCRed (or exported) plain text would already be very good without opening them up to the dangers of some Office product or even Acrobat Reader.

      Instead of spending more and more money on highly complex solutions, we should think about making trivially simple archival formats. We now have the bandwidth and storage space that we can deal with documents being RLE compressed bitmaps along with an UTF-8 extract of the text on them. Yes, a page may be 200 kilobytes, but today the risk of having a bug in a complex parser exploited by far outweights a couple of gigabytes of storage space.

    5. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: On the up-side

      That makes them very difficult to hack in to. Maybe more

      You know, your system is supposed to DO something.

      You can deliver a bloc of concrete in the form of a mainframe. Pretty hard to hack into. Yep.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: On the up-side

        "You know, your system is supposed to DO something."

        Have we got to the stage where a system isn't considered to do something unless it has a direct internet connection?

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: On the up-side

        You can deliver a bloc of concrete in the form of a mainframe. Pretty hard to hack into.

        Especially if it uses Sygnetics famous write only memory chips

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Join the queue.

    When all the Brexit IT is sorted and working, I'm sure you'll be next. 2030 good for you ?

    1. ThomH Silver badge

      Re: Join the queue.

      From the realm of Brexit, why not apply the max fac technology to court digitisation? All documents will magically be recorded by cameras at the court's door, even if inside containers, because you know, technology. Get the same guys to work on it who are behind the governmental push for secure encryption that allows contents to be inspected by an unapproved third party, they seem to be able to be good at this impossible requirement stuff.

    2. Ken 16 Silver badge

      Re: Join the queue.

      That's overtime hours - can't you deliver it before lunch tomorrow instead?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A Judge complaining about something being antique and out of touch, there's an irony.

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Judges are/were often ridiculed for seemingly not knowing what commonly used items are. The reason they ask for clarification is not because they don't know, but because they want precise details in the court records.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "The reason they ask for clarification is not because they don't know, but because they want precise details in the court records."

        And not only that, they want what's on record to have been agreed by both sides so one of them can't turn round later and say "That's not what we meant".

        Also, a moment's thought should be enough to realise that judges the cases flowing through the court rooms keep judges very much in touch with current life

      2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        "

        The reason they ask for clarification is not because they don't know, but because they want precise details in the court records.

        "

        They also want the witness's definition of the words s/he is using to be put on record, so that the witness cannot later claim that they were referring to something completely different or had themselves misunderstood the meaning of a particular word.

      3. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Ken Clarke

        Wasn't that why he was rapidly removed from running the judicial system? Because as an actual criminal QC he knew enough to know that Conservative (i.e. Paul Dacre's) ideas about crime and punishment are stupid.

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Ken Clarke

          rapidly removed

          If your conjecture were true, surely he would never have been appointed in the first place. It's not like his 2010-2012 Home Office stint was his first one there.

      4. Vometia Munro

        Fair point. Some judges are more switched on than others, such as another recent case where a judge appeared to imply that using an online alt is evidence of wrongdoing, because of course everybody uses their real name online at all times (quickly skimming over the minor point that I did for a time consider this moniker as a viable option).

        I should really reserve any ire for those who deserve it, not the ones who are demonstrating an appropriate grasp of clue.

        1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

          It would appear I've been downvoted by my fanboy/girl/bot.

    2. Stumpy
      1. Andy Taylor

        I knew which sketch without even clicking :D

  4. Steve 114
    Thumb Down

    One step forward...

    My cousin used to draft his judgments with enormous care, print them double-spaced, and have Tribunal colleagues vet them with well-considered inky marks. Now he has to dictate them onto some voice recognition gizmo on-line at home (after reading bedtime stories to his children, and in that mindset), hope the spelling is almost right, and get comments from whenever colleagues have finished their family supper, and think to log-in. I'm sure he couldn't possibly comment on the virtues of paper..

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: One step forward...

      Now he has to dictate them onto some voice recognition gizmo on-line at home (after reading bedtime stories to his children, and in that mindset),

      Once upon a time, there was very naughty...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've yet to meet someone in the legal profession who doesn't insist on printing ALL documentation. You could give them the best, most secure, document management solution and they'd still ask their legal secretaries to print it off in single-sided A5

    1. ThomH Silver badge

      When you're standing up in court being confident that you can quickly find the piece of documentation you need, and see its contents, probably while also paying attention to what someone else is saying or while speaking yourself, is fairly important.

      I can't speak as to the solicitors. They probably just like being able to work on the train?

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        I get my Parish Council documents electronically, but I still print them for the actual meeting as I don't have a tablet able to display twelve sheets of A4 at the same time.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "When you're standing up in court being confident that you can quickly find the piece of documentation you need, and see its contents, probably while also paying attention to what someone else is saying or while speaking yourself, is fairly important."

        I'll second that from the point of view of the witness box. I'd want both my original statement of witness, reception forms listing exhibits (double sided) as submitted to the lab and lab notes (single sided as lab notebooks took carbon copies) to be quickly accessible.

        In my day there wouldn't have been any alternative to hard copy but I can't imagine any electronic form being as rapidly accessible other than a very wide hi-res screen capable of displaying several A4 images side-by side. And, going back to the OP's point: A4 not A5.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "I've yet to meet someone in the legal profession who doesn't insist on printing ALL documentation"

      Funnily enough I've yet to meet anyone with decades of experience in IT who doesn't insist on doing the same thing - because no matter how you set things up even if the computer system is secure, some user or PHB will insist on a configuration which arbitrarily dumps things which later turn out to be critical.

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    I'm told they still use fax as the losest common denominator.

    Which is pretty low indeed.

    You might think that (somehow) courts, lawyers, the CPS, police, prisons, probation service and even borders Agency were linked together to offer (to coin a phrase) a "Seamless user experience," be they (the "user") victim, witness, accused or convicted criminal.

    IRL that will happen when there is a squadron of Gloucester Old Spots watered and ready for takeoff at Heathrow.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: I'm told they still use fax as the losest common denominator.

      IRL that will happen when there is a squadron of Gloucester Old Spots watered and ready for takeoff at Heathrow.

      Don't be ridiculous. The squadron of Gloucester Old Spots are based at Staverton, where they belong.

    2. Deckard_C

      Re: I'm told they still use fax as the losest common denominator.

      For criminal matters the courts, lawyers, the CPS, police have being using CJSM for years which is an email system where all the emails go through the CJSM emails servers. You can either have webmail access to it for connect your email system to it provided you have full control over your email server and not shared. Not Office365 or gmail etc.

      Although now you can't use it for documents as they have to be uploaded to the criminal courts system. And you can't present any documents in court if they haven't been uploaded to the system. Basically they have gone paperless in court. They have a clickshare type system in court so you can display your laptop screen on a big screen. It might actually be clickshare but haven't actually been in the courts to see.

      Also depending on the hearing they don't actually bring the defendent to court from the police cells or prison and is done by video conference, the lawyer might be at the court or with the defendant depending on circumstances. I think it's more common for the lawyer to be at the court as they may have other cases to deal with as well. A Lawyer will be sent to court to deal with what ever clients are appearing that day at that court.

      I'm not a lawyer.

  7. The Nazz Silver badge

    This Judge, and the Court system only have themselves to blame. What they should have done is to remove the 90%+ of crap from the current system, and thus workload, before even considering digitising anything.

    That crap, for the most part, being the conduct of the lawyers, some of which is criminal, and whose interests lie in the systems being inefficient, ineffective and open to abuse.

    Case study ( and not from Monty Python) :

    Defendant : Judge, we haven't been served a bundle.

    Judge : Is that so. Claimant, did you serve the D. a bundle ( legal note : over 7 days ago in accordance with the rules).

    Claimant : Yes we did serve** the D a bundle. We posted them a CD on Saturday.

    Judge : But that doesn't constitute serving a bundle.

    Claimant : Does it not?

    Judge : NO, it doesn't. But we'll proceed anyway.

    Defendant : OK then Judge, (holding up said CD) if you'll just turn to sector 12 track 146 it says here : 01110101 010101010111011101110001010101010 1001010111100101100101A4E11.

    Judge : This is farcical.

    Well fucking sort out the root issues then; you have the powers to do so.

    Remedy : Have them jailed and disbarred and within days, such practices, and far far worse, will cease.

    * a mild example, but wilfully lying to the Judge nevertheless.

  8. TRT Silver badge

    I have experience of the Family Court IT system...

    Submitting documents by email, following the prescribed method of flagging the files and documents etc... they never reach their intended destination. The court clerks log and progress everything in a database system purely so that there can exist a national case handling call centre. I phoned them after resubmitting a defective order (missed a tick box) and they said "check again in 4 weeks". So I did, still not arrived. Got a call from the clerk at the court "oh, that never works right. Takes someone a year to find it usually. Just bring a hardcopy round and mark the envelope URGENT is a big and bold a lettering as you dare. I'll keep an eye open for it."

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: I have experience of the Family Court IT system...

      Do they still ship people from IT consultancies to Australia for hard labor?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I have experience of the Family Court IT system...

        No, the Australian Government get local IT consultants to fuck up their systems.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I have experience of the Family Court IT system...

      You forgot to bury the papers as compost then dig them up to use as firelighters (to paraphrase...)

  9. Alan Brown Silver badge

    'Got a call from the clerk at the court "oh, that never works right. Takes someone a year to find it usually.... '

    And they just put up with that, rather than kicking up a shitstorm.

    It's no wonder the system is clusterfucked.

  10. not.known@this.address Bronze badge

    There is at least one big advantage to hardcopy.

    It's a lot harder to pretend you actually said something else when it's printed out and anyone can read it...

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