ICL wins pounds 183m contract to modernise court system

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THE BRITISH court system is to be dragged into the information age over the next few years, courtesy of a pounds 183m contract that was awarded yesterday to a consortium led by ICL, the computer services giant.

The 11-year deal, awarded under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), will see the three computer systems currently used by the Magistrates Courts brought together in a single system.

The network will help schedule court room appearances, allocate magistrates to cases, and keep details of whether offenders who have been fined have paid up.

The project, dubbed Libra, will connect some 500 courthouses around the country as well as allowing the Magistrates Courts to share information with other branches of the legal system.

Meanwhile, members of the public will be able to download information about court schedules which will be posted on the Internet.

"This system covers all the administration that tends to go on behind the scenes for the courts to operate efficiently," said Alan Gibson, an executive director of ICL.

The company, which has formed a consortium with Unisys, the computer services group, was the sole bidder for the contract.

EDS, the US giant which had been in the running, pulled out at the final stage.

ICL and Unisys are two of the existing providers of IT systems to the magistrates' courts. The third, the north-London based minnow MDIS, will not be involved in the new network.

The system will be based on Microsoft desktop software, linked to databases based on software developed by Oracle. It is expected to be fully up and running within two to three years.

Last year, ICL joined forces with Microsoft to develop systems based on Microsoft's Windows NT networking software.

Under the terms of the contract, the ICL consortium will be paid according to the number of transactions that are processed by the system.

However, Mr Gibson played down worries that the deal left ICL exposed if the system took longer than expected to set up.

"We don't see a big risk. We have done the development and the testing and are confident we can meet the timetable," he said.

ICL is currently behind schedule with Pathway, a PFI contract to computerise thousands of Post Offices around the country, which is worth more than pounds 1bn.

However, the company insists the delays are not its fault.