NI justice agencies begin sharing data on criminals

20 Apr 2004

Northern Ireland’s criminal justice organisations can now share data on convictions and criminal records electronically following the completion of the first phase of a major IT project.

Called the Criminal Record Viewer, this is a single shared database for the province’s six criminal justice organisations (CJOs). The initiative is part of the multi-agency Causeway programme, which began in May 2002 with the aim of allowing relevant information to be accessible to the CJOs.

The project specification also decreed that this data should be accurate, consistent, up-to-date and accessible electronically by the staff who need to use it. It replaces the older, paper-based system.

The six agencies involved in the programme are the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Forensic Science Northern Ireland, the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Court Service, the Probation Board for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

Fujitsu won the tender to supply the technology for the Causeway Programme, a contract worth €35m over 10 years. As part of the project, each CJO will retain its own existing IT system. When information is being shared, it will be in XML format, a standard already agreed between all of the agencies. The security model in the Causeway programme determines who has permission to access the information. Causeway maintains a hub where this is controlled and updated. Each CJO has a communications link to the hub which is linked to two secure Fujitsu data centres in the Belfast area.

Previously, when the prosecution service needed a document from the police, a paper document was requested and then sent. Now, authorised users can view criminal records over an encrypted web browser. This has sped up the process considerably, according to Alan Thompson, Northern Ireland justice account manager with Fujitsu.

The next phase of the project, due to be completed later this year, involves intelligent sharing of data. Predetermined business rules will dictate where documents need to be sent and there will also be a facility for various CJOs to add information to documents as cases make their way through the system. Causeway has already established the various activities within the justice sector and the routes that information takes through the criminal justice system.

“Criminal records, while they are a good start, were something we were able to deliver quickly because they are straightforward,” said Thompson. “Ultimately it’s about streamlining the end-to-end process and shortening the timescale from arrest to prison. That has benefits to the community because it should result in money saving and for example, witnesses won’t have to recall events of two years ago.”

The project is something of a milestone in e-government and the justice sector, Thompson claimed. “These guys defined what they wanted to do, went ahead and did it. England and Wales looked at it but have not developed it yet.” He pointed out that because the criminal justice organisations are independent of each other “it is a joined-up government type of programme”.

Such a model would also be suitable for use in the equivalent sector in the Republic, Thompson suggested. “Causeway wants to achieve a degree of control of the end-to-end justice programme. That is a Department of Justice type of model where a central authority can have visibility of the pace at which information is progressing through the system, speeding up the administration of justice.”

By Gordon Smith

Pictured at the launch of the Criminal Record Viewer are: Maurice Wright, MD Fujitsu; Brian Rowntree, Probation Board Chairman and Sir Alasdair Fraser, Director of Public Prosecutions