Legal Advisors are continuing strike action over the imposition of a flawed and unpopular computer system which ‘puts justice at risk’. Members of the PCS union voted to strike for nine days from 22nd October, in protest against the Common Platform, a new computer system. It is intended to allow all parties to a criminal case to access details of the case in a single location. It has cost £300 million, and is currently used in 136 different courts throughout England and Wales, with the remaining 40% of courts due to receive it in 2023.
The strikers call attention to the system’s ‘fundamental flaws’. Cases are lost, new charges are ‘magicked up’, and court results are changed. It has been compared to the Horizon system, at the heart of the long-running Post Office scandal.
Critics have cited examples where a court imposed a driving ban, but later investigation revealed the result had been changed on the computer system. On another occasion, an individual was held in prison for several days without cause, an error traced back to Common Platform. A third case involved charges being incorrectly transferred to a crown court, with the presiding judge describing the system as ‘rubbish… more trouble than its worth.’
Strike action affects 60 magistrates’ courts. Many hearings have had to be adjourned. In Luton, only one Legal Advisor was available to cover six courts. In Manchester, only four courts were able to sit on the 24th, and only three the following day. The criminal courts already have a backlog of 60,000 cases.
Legal Advisors are trained lawyers, who provide support to lay magistrates and judges. Under Common Platform, they will also take over administrative roles. The PCS, the largest civil service union, states the rollout of Common Platform will cost 3,000 jobs, and has caused significant stress and anxiety.