Freesteel Blog » Even less justice for Open Source

Even less justice for Open Source

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008 at 7:31 pm Written by:

There is a vast scheme for computerizing Her Majesty’s Courts Service (HMCS). I don’t know anything about the job specifically, but I do know about the computerization of the Acts of Parliament — the DNA of the legal system, if you will — and how ineffectively done it is.

I contend that if the powers that be weren’t so concerned about printing them on vellum for the benefit people 500 years hence who may or may not give a flying frog about it long after all the UK government buildings have sunk beneath the waters of the Thames, they might have time to get something useful done for the people to whom the law applies to today as it is drafted by people today.

One obvious feature involving the Acts of Parliament and the legal system would be a method for tagging every argument, hearing or legal decision on the public record to the Act, Section, or Regulations it specifically references.

From this, we could generate the big picture, a poster shot of how the legal code is performing, where it is defective, misapplied, buggy, and what needs to be fixed. The UK Parliament is the sovereign body with the power to patch this code, and through our electoral process we are supposed to influence how this works.

At every level of indirection there is a loss of control and influence to whom it effects.

We don’t vote for whether the coordinated action of the state can do one thing or another; instead we have judges to decide on this, and the judges interpret the written law.

We don’t vote for what that law is; instead we have political representatives who argue about it and ratify it for us.

And over the very long term, usually without considering the effects on the law, or the effects of the law, we, thrice removed from the actual application of effective coercion, we get to chose from a narrow selection of party appointed operatives those political representatives.

There is, for example, an identity card system underway which the government is going to impose upon us, and people who don’t like it are going to get busted under Section 7(5) of the Identity Cards Act by a judge. An effective and democratically enabled court filing system would note each case against that section in the Act, and these notations would connect back to the decision in Parliament where they passed this section of the Act as well as the Act as a whole, and thence back to the individual MPs who voted for these sections whom we have no alternative but to hold personally liable for committing these fellow citizens to civil proceedings and possibly to jail, as well as wasting vast quantities of our national treasure on this boondoggle. With effective accountability of this nature would come the responsibility to fix it. It is within the power of our Parliament to change any law at any time without limitation. That’s what the Home Secretary told us yesterday when she promised to have a draft Bill to extend the time period people could be arrested without telling them what for, available on stand-by to be voted on in the event of a “national emergency”. Presumably an emergency as good as that other public emergency threatening the life of the nation which they declared without anyone noticing, and which stood for three and a half years.

Of Course, none of these interesting features are present in the plans for the computerization of the courts service through the Ministery of Justice’s new multi-million pound Electronic Filing and Document Management (EFDM) contract.

Last month I blogged about the feasibility study of the scheme, and its lack of any mention of open source. This month I got some further documents through an FOI request.

Here are the vision statements.

From the Business Operating Model V1.

The EFDM vision is to provide a more cost effective, accessible and speedy service to litigants, court staff and the judiciary through a transformation of the way court services are accessed and delivered by adopting e-Enabled justice through e-transmission of documents and universal access to an e-case file.

(BTW, I met the former e-Envoy last night. This experience will be blogged later.) From the Business Prospectus 1.0:

e-Enabled justice through e-transmission of documents and universal access to an e-case file; producing a transformation of the way court services are accessed and delivered, and a more cost effective, accessible and speedy service to litigants, court staff and the judiciary.

As you can see, the system will be fundamentally limited to the task of busting people efficiently, and not anything towards helping answer questions like: What’s law doing here that’s any good? Who’s getting hit? How can we get it changed?

Because it’s not open source, there is no possible way for someone with an interest in these questions (that’s all of us, unless we have been propagandized not to give a damn until it’s too late) to retro-fit these features into it.

The EFDM contract is interesting because it’s not only out-sourced. The outsourcing itself has been outsourced to two private consulting firms who appear to have drawn up an utterly vague and vacuous set of designs and operating structures with not one use case scenario or piece of recognizable functionality anywhere. But they’ve got an “implementation approach” (p14 of Business Prospectus) seen here now:

Someone I showed these documents to said immediately: “That looks like Microsoft Sharepoint.” And it probably is, because designers always copy “neutral” specs from what they know. Limited experience is in general a mental prison.

There is some dreadful blue block-diagram flow chart that’s repeated several times in different forms throughout the documents, and it looks like nothing more than the organization chart for, the on-line book-seller, with its Front and Back Offices and National Bulk Centres, delivery flows, and arrows to icons showing that it can send your invoices for fines or fees by Fax or Email. By page 30 my brain had died.

From Business Prospectus – Annex A:

Critical Success Factor

  • The operational time taken for HMCS court staff to complete the full
    range of case related activities is reduced.


  • The delivery of new and improved modern channels for ease of access to court services and appropriate case information [Internal & External Channels – Areas 1 & 2 and 3 & 7]
  • To deliver efficient and effective management of case files and case records within the court services operation through the removal of paper and the provision of IT tools and revised working practices [Input & Output Management and Business Information Management – Areas 4, 5 & 6]
  • To introduce standardised management of case records
    from creation through to archiving [Areas 4, 5]
  • To free up office space by the removal of paper and the streamlining of operational procedures [Back Office capability – Area 9]
  • Enhance the reputation of HMCS [All areas of BOM]
  • Improved capture of management statistics, to facilitate better understanding of business operations. [Back Office – Area 9]

We Know It’s Achieved When

  • The service levels for responses to a case are within the timescales set, i.e. the administrative process steps to be completed within 5 days for 94% of cases.
  • BMS times for case file related processes are revised downwards
  • HMCS court staff can to locate a case file in under 10 seconds and therefore able to answer a query made by the litigant or defendant – fewer case files are lost or incomplete.
  • Case documents are easily stored and accessed and associated with other documents which have already been filed for that case.
  • The reduction in time of the overall court processes mean that judges can increase by 5-10% the number of small claims cases processed. Similar increases in processing will also apply to fast-track and multi-track cases.

Annex B is very boring. Annex C is where you look up the definitions of Service Upgrade Projects (SUPS), Work(flow|load|force) Management, and e-bundles.

Then finally the Pre Qualification Questionaire which “has been developed to enable Logica to recommend to the MoJ an initial longlist of Bidders suitable to be invited to negotiate to meet the requirements of the EFDM Programme.”

The PQQ ensures that nothing good whatsoever can come of this project:

Please provide a copy of your senior management organisation chart.
Please describe (using diagrams where appropriate) the proposed structure of the organisation which would deliver the services envisaged for EFDM, and the reporting lines within your organisation.
Give your view of the benefits of the organisational approach you are choosing and, if relevant, the strengths that the different companies bring (where appropriate).

The successful supplier will be required to use a recognised Programme and Project Management methodology, consistent with or interfacing to Government standards such as Managing Successful Programmes (sic), PRINCE 2, etc.
Describe in outline your preferred methodology and management tools that you have applied to your existing Government contracts.

The MoJ strategic preference for the delivery of IT solutions is to “buy not build” and the re-use of existing components and services, or Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) products, (integrated and configured as necessary to meet the business and technical requirements) is therefore the preferred approach for EFDM.

Bidders should describe the components that they have used and implemented in similar systems, highlighting their use of Commercial Off The Shelf components in these solutions and identify the business and technical benefits provided by the use of each product.

Most importantly, from my point of view as a coder who understands the purpose of free software, the PQQ Annex A has in 7.1

As a general principle, IPR in software that is specially written for the project is owned by the party best placed to exploit those rights. This will usually be the Contractor.

So the general principle is to gift a monopoly on this publicly funded capital so we don’t get to use it or add features. The government looks after its own interests thus:

The Contractor the
Authority should ensure that it is given a perpetual and royalty free licence to use the specially written software providing as a minimum rights to:

  • use it within the Authority’s organisation without restriction;
  • and

  • allow other public sector users to use the services provided by the
  • transfer the benefit of the licence to other public sector bodies;
  • allow other service providers to deliver inter-connecting services; and
  • allow other service providers to provide the services or replacement
    services upon termination of the Agreement, the triggering of step-in
    rights or upon the expiry of the Agreement.

What would I have done?

Well, for 2 million quid which it cost to do the feasibility study, write no code at all, and spread any kind of knowledge anywhere, the Government and the court service could have run a series of open days on its premises to show technically minded people and companies what it does, what it needs, and hold week long workshops that heard about and took advantage of the community knowledge and experience before committing to anything tedious. Some of the people who went to these conferences might find that it’s really interesting, and so within their capabilities that they start up a business to help supply the government’s needs, and the wealth and capital spreads, and everything improves with good software and people who are interested open and care.

Anything but set up a system where the money goes to the usual suspects who have no intellectual interest in the process whatsoever, and wish that anyone out in the wider world who does have a technical interest in the problem — as distinguished from making lots of money by servicing a crappy contract — would just go jump in a lake, or get lost in some other way. We don’t need them. All they’ll do is interfere with profit making. Good bye.

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