Blog Archives

Criminal justice system on its knees – ’transformed’ by outsourced IT system

 

Lucy Frazer, the justice minister, faces warnings that the criminal justice system is reaching crisis point. Thousands of cases have been disrupted, with trials adjourned and delayed, after the main computer system in England and Wales went down at hundreds of courts. The Times reports that one senior figure said the system was “on its knees”.

Problems include:

  • Prison visits and meetings cancelled.
  • Lawyers and clerks unable to access documents such as witness statements.
  • Defendants being asked to check their own driver records for potential disqualifications on the DVLA website.
  • Problems in the probation service surfaced eight weeks ago; probation workers are being told to take annual leave as they could not carry out their work.
  • 75,000 judges and lawyers who use the criminal justice secure email system were locked out last week.
  • The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said it estimated that about 30 trials had already been adjourned.

Chris Grayling, during his term as lord chancellor, introduced the present IT system as “a several hundred million-pound investment in the Courts and Tribunal Service . . . fully supported by the judiciary and a really important initiative of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats working together in coalition to modernise the working of our courts”.

Comment by Jonathan Black, a partner at BSB Solicitors and former president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association:

“Since 2013, when Grayling was brought in to manage transformation of our justice system, we saw a plethora of projects prefixed with the word transforming, which was window-dressing for selling off.”

Comment by Chris Henley, QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, which represents about 4,000 lawyers:

“The unrealistic planning has all the hallmarks of a Grayling project. He has repeated the trick everywhere he has been. We’ve seen it with the probation contract, private prisons and more recently the railways. We are living with his destructive, nihilistic legacy in all areas of legal aid and the courts . . .

“The closure of so many buildings, the ‘rationalisation’ of staff etc are all premised on the basis that the modernisation programme will create a cheaper digitised replacement system. Lawyers and many judges have no confidence in this planned overhaul of the courts and have serious reservations from a public policy point of view.”

He warned that trials could collapse. “Trials are being adjourned, the IT infrastructure is inaccessible in many places, electronic recording systems aren’t working and barristers can’t access vital documents because court wifi and secure emails aren’t working,” he said. “The system is on its knees.”

Lucy Frazer, the justice minister said that all judges would receive a personal letter from Sir Richard Heaton, the permanent secretary at the MoJ, who would also meet the chief executive of Atos, one of the network suppliers. She added that the department was exploring whether the suppliers’ contracts included “penalty clauses” to try to retrieve some of the costs incurred by the IT failures.

A spokesman said that the secure email system, supplied by Egress, had been restored. The desktops using wired connections to the main MoJ network, provided by Microsoft and Atos, were still down. Microsoft and Egress referred inquiries to the Ministry of Justice.  Atos declined to comment.

Sources

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/destructive-chris-grayling-blamed-for-computer-chaos-in-courts-lsqkzd68z

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/courts-in-chaos-as-trials-halted-by-it-breakdown-f9lkqmm20

 

 

 

 

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ATOS, remarkable for assessments that harm the most vulnerable, changes its name

Work capability assessments, introduced under the last Labour government, were first carried out by Atos, which had a £100 million a year contract in 2012 – and later earned much more. The firm made a £42million profit in 2010 and paid its chief executive Keith Wilman £800,000, a 22% pay rise on the previous year. Since then other providers, including Capita and Maximus, have also been making these assessments. For several years there has been evidence from a wide range of sources that they are not being carried out efficiently. A few examples follow:

2014: the British Medical Association called for an end to a system harming the most vulnerable in our society

Doctors backed a motion at the annual BMA conference in 2012 stating that Atos’s assessments were “inadequate” and “have little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long-term sick and disabled persons.

In their evidence to the Fifth Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment (2014), the BMA repeated its 2012 call for government to end it “with immediate effect and replace it with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to the weakest and most vulnerable in our society”.

2015: An academic paper, published in the BMJ’s Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in which examined 149 English council areas, found that nearly 600 suicides in England may be associated with the government’s “fit-for-work” tests.

Oxford and Liverpool researchers looked at three years’ data and also found the Work Capability Assessments could be linked to a rise in mental health problems. The BBC reported in 2015 that the study found the areas with most WCAs showed the sharpest increases.

2016: The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found that UK welfare reforms have led to “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights.

Changes to benefits “disproportionately affected” disabled people, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) found. The 2016 investigation was launched after receiving evidence from disability organisations about an “alleged adverse impact” of government reforms on disabled people. UN committee members visited London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast in October 2015 to identify any gaps in human rights protection for disabled people. As part of its inquiry, the CRPD also looked at a range of recent welfare reforms and legislation including the Welfare Reform Act 2012, Care Act 2014, and Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.

The BBC reported the UN inquiry’s conclusion that changes made to housing benefits and criteria for parts of the Personal Independence Payment, combined with a narrowing of social care criteria and the closure of the Independent Living Fund, “hindered disabled people’s right to live independently and be included in the community”.

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green rejected the UN report’s findings, but it has now been announced that after a high court ruling on 2017 regulations, introducing criteria which discriminated against those with impaired mental health, decisions on personal independence payments will be reviewed.

2017: Directors and other officers of the Department of Work and Pensions receive new year’s honours for services to ‘welfare reform’, as a reader draws attention to an undated article in the Dorset Eye, by Douglas James, listing 82 people who have died or committed suicide soon after dealings with agencies such as ATOS and the government’s Department of Work and Pensions. A search was made for news of the first five on the Dorset Eye list and links to fuller accounts were added. Most of the people were aged 30-40.  

2018: Private Eye 1462 reported in January that despite long-drawn-out resistance from the DWP, Atos and Capita, the Information Commissioner’s Office has now ruled that the DWP must reveal monthly reports These include details of complaints against assessors, the length of time taken by t-assessments and how many fail – i.e. are overturned on appeal.

In December the Commons Work & Pensions Select Committee report revealed that:

  • it had heard disturbing evidence,
  • accounts of medical assessments range from frustrating to gruelling,
  • there were remarkably high, if slowly improving, levels of unacceptable reports,
  • not one doctor had been involved in the assessments and
  • Capita’s own auditing found that at points in the contract almost 60% of its reports were “unacceptable”.

MP Tom Brake speaks out:

“Many constituents are in despair when they contact me after an inaccurate report. Reports of face-to-face assessments need to be unbiased, fair and above all accurate. It was important to flag up these discrepancies directly with ATOS. The Government need to ensure that assessments are recorded to prevent alarming inaccuracies. I will continue to put pressure on the Government to reform the current system. At the moment too many people have lost faith in the system.”

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Last resort: after many disastrous years – like Windscale nuclear reactor station – in June Atos Healthcare announced changes to its name – but not its practice.    

 

 

 

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Calling Government to account for the deaths of 82 named individuals

obe-medalAs directors and other officers of the Department of Work and Pensions receive new year’s honours for services to ‘welfare reform’, a reader draws attention to an article in the Dorset Eye, by Douglas James, listing  82 people who have died or committed suicide soon after dealings with agencies such as ATOS and the government’s Department of Work and Pensions.

A search was made for news of the first five on the Dorset Eye list and the links to fuller accounts added. Most of the people were aged 30-40.

Terry McGarvey, 48. Dangerously ill from Polycythemia, Terry asked for an ambulance to be called during his ATOS Work Capability Assessment (WCA). He knew that he wasn’t well enough to attend but feared that his benefits would be stopped if he did not. He died the following day. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/terry-mcgarvey-man-ill-attend-3178486

Elaine Lowe, 53. Suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and fearful of losing her benefits. In desperation, Elaine chose to commit suicide.  http://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/suicide-bid-of-woman-who-feared-losing-her-incapacity-benefit-8761182.html

Mark Wood, 44. Found fit for work by Atos, against his doctor’s advice and assertions that he had complex mental health problems. Starved to death after benefits stopped, weighing only 5st 8lb when he died. http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/11043378.Man_starved_after_benefits_were_cut/

Paul Reekie, 48, the Leith based poet and author. Paul suffered from severe depression and committed suicide after the DWP stopped his benefits due to an Atos ‘fit for work’ decision. http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/claim-welfare-reforms-drove-writer-paul-reekie-to-suicide-1-2269052

Leanne Chambers, 30 from County Durham. Leanne suffered depression for many years which took a turn for the worse when she was called in for a WCA. Leanne committed suicide soon after. http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/boyfriend-missing-leanne-chambers-speaks-4465236

Karen Sherlock, 44, from Portsmouth. Karen suffered from multiple health issues but was found fit for work by Atos and denied her lifeline benefits. She fought a long battle to get placed into the Employment and Support Group (ESA) and died the following month of a heart attack. http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/327050/My-ill-wife-had-to-fight-for-benefits-up-until-she-died

 

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Post script

A year ago the BBC said that over 2000 people died after being found fit for work and losing benefits, according to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures. Between December 2011 and February 2014 the equivalent of about 90 people a month died after their Employment and Support Allowance claim was ended. The DWP said no link could be assumed between the deaths and claimants being deemed fit for work.

After a Freedom of Information request suggested the information about deaths linked to Work Capability Assessment is being ‘covered up’, three  political parties have called for an independent enquiry into deaths linked to government reforms.

 

 

 

The Straw/Rifkind cases – tip of the iceberg

‘Becoming richer’ is not the most important issue; the most damaging effect of these cases is the destruction of democracy as enriched politicians and civil servants influence decisions in the corporate interest.

cameron lobbying

The BBC reports that, speaking to Sky News, Speaker John Bercow said his attitude was that MPs should represent their constituents and not use their position to make money from outside interests, adding: “People should not be in parliament to add to their personal fortune”.

Anglo-Saxon attitudes: in a British graphic, the Union Jack would look somewhat similar to this ‘Stars and Stripes’:

corporate capture of USA

Following the “cash for access” allegations, the Labour leader Ed Miliband called for a ban on MPs being allowed to have two jobs.

The Vested Interest in Politics Group would go further and many would advocate the extension of ACOBA’s remit to ensure that any personal friend or family member of a senior politician or civil servant gets employment with any corporate, totally on their own merits.

fit to rule tests atos

Policy of perfection for MPs – steer clear of business interests and work for the constituency and the wider good.

ACOBA is an advisory non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Cabinet Office, which considers applications under the business appointment rules about new jobs for former ministers, senior civil servants and other Crown servants. Read more:

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/advisory-committee-on-business-appointments

Is the new Health and Work Service designed to address medical incompetence and taxpayer malingering?

David Hencke has been reporting that Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud has awarded a contract to Health Management Ltd, subsidiary of US multinational company, Maximus. Doctors will no longer decide when patients should return to work after 4 weeks’ sickness absence.

The company’s press release reveals that this system will first be introduced in Wales, the Midlands and the North. The Scottish government has declined to contract out the work to the private firm and will keep the assessment programme as part of the public service.

fit to rule tests atoshttp://mikesivier.wordpress.com/about/

Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud is quoted in a DWP press release emphasising how the scheme will improve economic productivity and get people back to work faster. This ‘high quality new service’ will enable employees, GPs and employers to manage sickness absence better.

It is predicted that the new Health and Work Service will cut sick pay costs to business by £80 million to £165 million a year, as well as increase economic output by up to £900 million a year.

Employees on sick leave will be helped to return to work by providing them with an occupational health assessment when they reach, or are expected to reach, more than 4 weeks’ sickness absence. A case manager will phone to support each employee through the service’s assessment process to ensure their level of need is correctly identified along with appropriate steps to take to get them back to work. A return to work plan will be shared with their employer and GP.

Hencke’s comment

Effectively it will mean you will get a telephone consultation from a call centre and be emailed when you should return to work. If you don’t co-operate you will lose your benefit.

Remembering how disabled people were forced to find work or lose benefits by the French company ATOS, Mr Hencke suspects that that this new system could push the sick back to work before they have recovered.

To read his two articles and his investigation of the working conditions of Maximus’ employees, go to David Hencke’s website.

In 1986 Hencke was Westminster Correspondent covering both Whitehall and Westminster. He won three awards for investigations – the most serious being into the ”cash for questions” scandal which led to the bankruptcy of Ian Greer Associates and reporting the secret undeclared £373,000 home loan given to Peter Mandelson by fellow Treasury minister, Geoffrey Robinson. After working for the Guardian, he moved to the new Fleet Street based Exaro News, a City financed website, covering Whitehall, politics, the City,media, local government and tax issues. He and Francis Beckett (co-authors of ‘The Blairs and Their Court’, are now researching a new book into the Blairs’ post 2007 careers.

Government rewards Serco for failure: Management Today asks: “Scandals? What scandals?”

Gill Plimmer in the Financial Times reports the continued lunacy (or worse) of our government in rewarding failure.

northern rail header

The largest UK government contract awarded so far this year – a £520m deal to continue operating the Northern Rail franchise until 2016 – has gone to Serco in partnership with a Dutch rail operator.

The company is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for alleged charging for monitoring criminals who were dead, in prison or had not been tagged at all. It has already agreed to repay £68.5m to the government.

A Reuters report said that this had led to a ban on new work, managerial departures and big hits to shares and profits, but a detailed article by Management Today adds that the ban has now ended. Serco’s CEO resigned and Rupert Soames, Winston Churchill’s grandson has been appointed to the position.

Management Today (“Scandals? What scandal) links to an article on outsourcing which notes UK central government payments to outsourcers – each one with multiple failures – including:

£700m to France-based Atos (axed by DWP)
£1.6bn to Capita (MoD computer failure)
£1.3bn to G4S (Olympics)
£3bn to Serco (see above)
And local government spent £506bn with Capita in 2012/13.
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Why are companies rewarded for failure?

Though the aim of outsourcing is said to be saving money, other voices – including Management Today’s Jeremy Hazlehurst – allege that it is ‘risk transfer”: “Politicians are keen to shift the risk for some services into the private sector. It’s nice to be able to blame an outsourcer when there’s a prison riot”.

Or is it simply another undesirable, unaccountable, undemocratic feature of the British corporate-political nexus?

Soapbox for the 99%: the grandest larceny ever – public funds handed over to bolster profit

99-3

 

John Tyrrell writes:

Schools, hospitals, even prisons contribute to the likes of the Chief Executives of G4S, and ATOS who thrive at the expense of the peoples’ misery. They take over key services providing poorly trained, low paid staff.

Is austerity necessary? Yes it is if you have the view that the key to a successful economy is maximising profit and rewarding the few who happen to be in the right place and the right time.

This is the dominant version espoused by politicians, the elite who court them and a press ever more tightly reigned in to serve their purpose.

Many more are seeing through the great lie and, as the power of the state is abused, resistance will intensify – as we have seen across Europe in Spain, Greece and now Turkey.

KC comments by email:

“the valuable deeds and opinions of the most responsible and conscientious individuals and front line workers count for very little when ruled by an inner circle within a financially driven and ruthlessly competitive establishment”.