30 Apr 2014

Ministry manager blamed judges

9:01 am on 30 April 2014

A Ministry of Justice senior manager has blamed judges for the axing of the centrepiece of an $18 million project.

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Photo: RNZ

Radio New Zealand broke the story of the demise of the e-bench project in November, and now documents released under the Official Information Act show what was going on behind the scenes.

The first two phases of the project have been rolled out and include police and probation filing documents electronically.

The third phase, called the e-bench, was the central component of the digitisation of the court system and would have allowed judges to open digital files in court and record their decisions, saving an estimated millions of dollars worth of court time.

But a report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers said one problem was the e-bench went outside its scope after judges requested additions to the project. It also warned of budget blow-outs and found the project needed a complete re-set of its goals.

An internal briefing paper by a senior Ministry of Justice manager blamed the judiciary for what it termed "scope creep". However it also found the current IT system may not have been up to supporting the e-bench.

The Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue has denied judges were responsible for axing the project.

In a letter to the ministry in April, Judge Doogue said her colleagues were consulted but had only limited involvement.

"From the judicial perspective, there has been no material advance at all. We continue to work in courts the nature of which would be recognised by someone from several centuries ago," said Judge Doogue.

"Despite the various electronic developments, Judges still write each list court decision on paper with a pen."

No one from the Ministry of Justice was available for comment and Radio New Zealand understands the manager who blamed the judiciary is no longer working for the ministry.

Of the $18 million budget, $15.5 million has been spent on rolling out the first two phases and work on e-bench.

The ministry's director of modernising courts, Jacquelyn Shannon said the money spent solely on e-bench is yet to be finalised and has not been sent to Ministers.

A spokesperson from the Auditor General's office said the financial aspects of the project will be included in the the annual audit at the end of the year.