The government's deadline for Wi-Fi in all courtrooms by 2016 has already slipped, the Gazette has learned, with one area being told it will not receive a wireless connection for at least another three years.
The Ministry of Justice insists that the programme is on track. In April, justice minister Damian Green (pictured, right) said courts in England and Wales are entering a 'Wi-Fi era' following the announcement of an additional £75m annual investment over the next five years. This was on top of £160m announced last year to make courtrooms fully digital by 2016, Green said.
However, the Gazette has learned that HM Courts & Tribunals Service recently told members of the East and North Devon Magistrates' user group they will not receive Wi-Fi in Devon courts until 2017 at the earliest.
Stephen Nunn, managing director at Exeter firm Nunn Rickard, described the situation as 'farcical'. Nunn said Exeter has been told it is part of the 'fourth tranche' to receive Wi-Fi under a planned nine-stage delivery programme. As such there will be 'many other' criminal justice areas which will not receive Wi-Fi until after July 2017.
Nunn claims HMCTS is now prohibiting individual courts from installing their own Wi-Fi for users ahead of the national scheme. 'One practical problem they state is that they want the whole court to go wireless, which means that all court staff will be using Wi-Fi instead of the cabling which was installed at huge expense some years ago.'
But he questioned the reasons for the slippage. 'Accepting there may be security issues relating to the equipment, this still doesn't stop a simple hub and broadband account being plugged in and made available for all court users,' he said. Wi-Fi in courts is essential to allow practitioners to work effectively, Nunn added.
But Green insisted that the ministry is on track to deliver Wi-Fi across courts by 2016. 'This is an ambitious project but one that is on schedule,' he told the Gazette. 'This government is investing more than £100m in digitising our courts, which will help us better meet the needs of victims and witnesses.
'By relying less on outdated paper systems, we will make courts more efficient and remove many of the common causes of court delays.'
IT projects in the Ministry of Justice have a poor track record. The High Court is still awaiting a new computer system to replace a £10m failed attempt to upgrade IT in 2010.
The troubled 'Libra' case management system cost £444m, more than three times the original estimate.