The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has suspended the £58m project to change the way court orders are enforced and historic criminal debt is collected because it does not have enough money.
The Transforming Compliance and Enforcement Programme (TCEP) – which was funded separately from the £1bn court modernisation project – has been halted because the “plans are no longer affordable within the Ministry of Justice’s funding allocation for the 2015 spending review period”.
The TCEP was upgrading systems in HM Courts and Tribunals Service’s (HMCTS) National Compliance and Enforcement Service, used to enforce court orders such as penalties and compensation.
The Treasury allocated the MoJ £617m in the 2015 spending rReview for its various reform projects, which is supplemented by £182m committed by the MoJ as part of its annual funding reviews, £12m from HMCTS and the Crown Prosecution Service, and £282m from property sales.
According to a report in May from the National Audit Office (NAO), HMCTS was predicting a shortfall of around £61m, which it thought it could manage by reallocating existing budgets.
The report said TCEP was expected to increase income collection by around £50m a year from 2020-21 for the MoJ and third parties such as victims’ services.
However, delivery was already a year later than planned “due to delays in procuring a financial system and the fact that HMCTS is not able to use an off-the-shelf debt management system as planned”.
In a statement yesterday, the MoJ said the work that has already been done “has not been lost”, with new ways of working, including better enforcement strategies and administration continuing.
“In addition, focused work on the development of future service design will continue, so that we ensure it is ready should it be required in the future.”
It said that, in 2017/18, HMCTS successfully recovered more than £400m in fines, £59m more than the previous year, as well as collecting over £30m of historic debt, “previously thought uncollectable”.
The NAO report concluded more generally that HMCTS faced a “daunting challenge” to deliver the scale of technological and cultural change necessary to modernise the justice system and achieve the required savings.
“The NAO believes there is a significant risk that HMCTS will not be able to achieve all it wants within the time available,” it said.
Contracts for approved enforcement agency services to enforce criminal court orders, announced in July 2018, are unaffected by the decision.