IT inadequacies have contributed to delays in the criminal justice system that are costing taxpayers an estimated £80m a year, according to a report from the Audit Commission published this week.
The report said that the money, which is enough to pay for an extra 3,800 police officers, is squandered by "delays and inefficiencies throughout the system", including problems with IT systems.
In particular, it warned that vital information held on the police national computer is often out of date, and called for better communication between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service using email and integrated IT systems.
It also maintained that the efficient preparation of case files depends on better use of IT to prepare and share files.
"Inefficiencies in the procedures for dealing with offenders not only waste money, but have a serious impact on the capacity of criminal justice system agencies to deliver justice and reduce crime," stated the report.
Meanwhile woeful under-investment in IT systems for the criminal justice system has led to delays and serious miscarriages of justice, a senior appeal court judge has warned.
Lord Justice Brooke blamed 15 years of IT neglect, and warned that at least £500m needs to be spent on IT for courts alone if inefficiencies are to be properly eliminated.
"The system is in danger of disintegrating if investment isn't made," he said at the Government Computing conference in London.
"There is a critical need for IT for criminal justice. IT systems have been lousy, leading to serious delays and in some cases serious miscarriages of justice."
Lord Brooke also warned that a chronic lack of investment had led to difficulties in recruiting and retaining IT staff across the justice system.
"The government is now taking criminal justice IT seriously. I'm not as concerned as I was two years ago about the medium and long term future of strategic IT. But I'm very concerned about the lack of investment in [IT for] civil and family law. There's no great government concern about the efficiency of agencies. It doesn't have a political fair wind," he said.
Jo Wright, director general of the Criminal Justice Information Technology (CJIT) unit of the Home Office, insisted that IT had a pivotal role to play in providing a joined up view of the criminal justice system.
"One of the things we've been lacking is a single view of what we're trying to do," she said. "We already have some major [IT] contracts. The challenge will be to find additional partners to glue this together."
The CJIT was set up six months ago to build and implement an IT strategy that creates effective links between the criminal justice organisations including the police service, courts and the probation service.
The unit is investing in web technology to provide secure links between elements of the criminal justice system and key partners including judges, defence lawyers and the general public.
Phase one involves delivering secure email to the criminal justice estate including courts, the criminal prosecution service, the probation service and police forces. The project is currently in pilot and is due to be completed by 2003.
Longer term plans include a central data exchange using the web to capture and share information, and track case files.
"Today tracking a case is virtually impossible," said Wright. "I'm not remotely interested in bells and whistles. Let's make sure we can walk before we do anything else."
She admitted that access to technology skills, security issues, cultural readiness and getting a common vision were the main risks to the IT projects underway.
The police service in the UK alone handles five million crimes and makes 1.5 million arrests every year.
Technology supplier EDS has already earmarked the criminal justice market as one poised for huge growth in demand for IT services over coming years.
"There's a lot of activity out there and the money allocated to it reflects the concerns of government post 11 September, and the need to show best value and improved efficiency," said EDS client executive of police systems Rob Reave. "Policing alone is 43 separate businesses, and it was a very piecemeal approach."
But he warned that many police forces were sceptical about the benefits of IT due to high profile failures across the IT industry and concerns about the value it can offer.
Cotton seedling freezes to death as Chang'e-4 shuts down for the Moon's 14-day lunar night
Fortnite easily out-earns PUBG, Assassin's Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2 in 2018
Meteor showers as a service will be visible for about 100 kilometres in all directions
Saturn's rings only formed in the past 100 million years, suggests analysis of Cassini space probe data
New findings contradict conventional belief that Saturn's rings were formed along with the planet about 4.5 billion years ago