AG falters on court technology system once again

The Ministry of the Attorney General says it no longer plans to implement the Court Information Management System that has cost at least $10 million and several years to develop.

Last week, ministry spokesman Brendan Crawley told Law Times the government has discarded the plan and is instead focusing on modifying its existing system. “The ministry will not be rolling out CIMS as originally conceived,” said Crawley, whose ministry had already said it was reviewing the plan last year. “To respond to demands for more timely modernization in the courts, the ministry has made investments in its current systems to enable a much more agile and responsive approach to its transformation agenda.”

By December 2012, the cost of building the Court Information Management System was $9.9 million. The idea was to begin user training for the program by the spring of 2012 under a phased implementation plan. The government was developing the Court Information Management System as part of a plan to digitize Ontario’s largely paper-based and outdated courthouses alongside the Crown Management Information System for the prosecution service. But the government won’t be implementing that system either. Instead, it will remain “in limited use,” according to the ministry.

“The Crown Management Information System (CMIS) remains in limited use in some Crown attorneys’ offices while we move forward with developing an in-house case-management/document-management solution that will also allow us to better track workload information,” said Crawley.

“The ministry will continue to support these existing CMIS sites with basic technology maintenance to ensure the sustainability of the software in the short term. The ministry does not intend to continue developing or deploying CMIS.”

Instead, Crawley said the ministry reviewed case-management technology used by police and other provinces and is incorporating that information into its approach. “Based on that [review] and our experience to date, the ministry has developed an in-house case-management/document-management solution that will also allow us to better track workload information.”

MPP Julia Munro, the Progressive Conservative critic for the attorney general, says it’s “frustrating” that the government has discarded the Court Information Management System after spending millions of taxpayer dollars on it.

“You’re supposed to think of that before you spend the money to do a search and find out what would provide you with the end result you want,” she says in reference to the government’s reviews after the fact.

“You’re not supposed to have reviews afterwards. So it’s not a shining moment at this point.”

Munro promised to get further details on the matter and possibly raise it in the legislature. “Somebody has offered the sign-off on the money and now they’re looking at it and wanting to back away,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s taxpayers’ money that appears to have been frittered away instead of providing a service that is in fact very much needed.”

She adds: “You know, it’s modernization and the idea is that you would become more efficient through that in cost and in time but [the situation now] looks to me suspiciously like the eHealth boondoggle and things like that.”

Lawyers she speaks to about the justice system always “come around to this issue,” Munro notes, adding the idea that people are still carrying boxes of materials from one courthouse to another isn’t acceptable, especially when other jurisdictions like Alberta and Manitoba have already found ways to create adequate programs.

According to a 2010 report by the auditor general, British Columbia had successfully implemented its own system in 2001 at a cost of $15 million.

When it comes to court technology, the ministry now says it’s “taking a more incremental approach to deploying technology, including enhancing the capability of the case tracking systems and scheduling,” according to Crawley, who identified three “immediate” priorities for modernization.

The priorities include remote court appearances, self-service for filing court documents, and making more information available online for users. “There is much more to be done, but these are the immediate priorities for modernization,” he said.

Part of the goal now is to have an information technology system that allows the ministry to receive disclosure from police services electronically.

Last year, the government reported that it had been spending lots of money on its various technology efforts. Over the last six years, spending on the existing systems that mainly provide case-tracking and scheduling functions — ICON, FRANK, and Estates — was $13.8 million.

The lengthy effort to implement a comprehensive court technology system has been the subject of commentary in various reports by the auditor general. Last year’s report, for example, noted the ministry’s internal auditors had expressed concern about the management of the Crown Management Information System.
“The internal auditor noted that IT consultants hired to develop CMIS, at a cost so far of $1.3 million, were not managed effectively and that billings were based on time spent rather than meeting project deliverable outcomes,” the auditor general said.

The 2010 report noted that at the time, the target date for a more comprehensive system in Ontario was 2009-10.

For more, see "Ontario lagging on court technology" and "Province fails on court technology."

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