Part 5 – IT systems and processes
119. Cases and requests from abroad come into ICU from a variety of sources but none of the organisations or authorities who submit requests have access to the national COPFS IT systems. As a result, ICU does not use the COPFS national IT systems but has its own bespoke system known as "ICU Live". Within ICU Live, each case is allocated a reference number. The Fugitives Unit has now adopted the same reference numbering system as ICU, which is extremely helpful.
120. ICU Live is a stand-alone electronic recording system available exclusively to those in the Unit. Cases are identified by a unique number, pre-fixed by the letters EO (Extradition Out), EI (Extradition In), MO (MLA Out) and MI (MLA In).
121. ICU Live is in essence an electronic spreadsheet with each of the four main areas of work and closed cases having a discrete section. Within each section, cases are listed in numerical and chronological order. Accordingly, EO/1/13 is the first outgoing extradition case in 2013. All the information added to ICU Live is added manually. Closed cases are automatically archived, although the archive section is not categorised by the type of case.
122. On opening the spreadsheet, there are individual sections containing all relevant information relating to a case but the format is unwieldy and not user friendly. Much of the information on the spreadsheet could be added to the electronic file that sits behind the spreadsheet with more important information such as the date that the case was last reviewed being more visible.
123. As ICU Live is dependent on manual inputs, it is vulnerable to data being entered erroneously or in some cases data not being entered. We found cases where court hearings had not been updated to indicate what had occurred in court, and there was no note of the date of the next appearance.
124. The main deficiencies in data concern the recording of when an outgoing request for assistance has been issued. In general, the recording of MLAs is inconsistent.
125. Managers recognise the limitations and inadequacies of ICU Live and while there has been a concerted effort to improve the accuracy of data on ICU Live, other forms of recording data have been introduced to mitigate the lack of reliability of the system.
Availability of Data
126. The impact of the deficiencies in the collation of data means that it is difficult to obtain accurate management information and it has resulted in a number of IT reports that are theoretically available in ICU Live not being utilised.
127. For example, information on the number of cases reviewed every month or cases closed is inherently unreliable due to weaknesses in the recording of such data.
128. There are, however, some reports that can be generated with some accuracy. For example, ICU Live can be interrogated to provide data on the number of new cases each month, although it is only accurate if it is examined on the last day of every month.
129. Due to difficulties with ICU Live, since 2011 all information about work in hand, time spent in court, number of arrests, surrenders and consents to extradition at first appearance are recorded manually on a series of spreadsheets. There is also a current spreadsheet that records extradition incoming and outgoing cases that is sent monthly to the police with daily updates sent to FU and IAU. In due course, it is intended that SOCA will become the statutory keeper of data on extradition for the UK so it is essential that information provided is accurate and definitive. This data is updated by an administrative manager and we have used this data in the course of the review. In comparison, there is no such record for MLAs.
130. While there is now up-to-date information on ICU Live on all hearings conducted in a month with it recording 336 court hearings in the first six months of 2013, only a few cases pre-2013 have court hearings recorded in ICU Live. This information for older cases has to be obtained from the spreadsheets held by the Unit.
131. Another set of data that is recorded by ICU is the number of cases where the fugitive consents to extradition at the first hearing. Consent clearly minimises work by ICU. In 2011, 14 persons consented at the first hearing out of 58 arrests (24.1%). In 2012, 16 persons consented at the first hearing out of 97 arrests (16.5%) and 7 have consented at the first hearing in the first five months of 2013 out of 56 arrests (12.5%).
132. We examined the time taken to deal with incoming extraditions. However, yet again there were issues with the data with, for example, one case being recorded twice.
Monitoring of Cases
133. It is not possible to determine how many cases are allocated to ICRDs, or the length of time taken to deal with such requests or to which office they have been sent. Chasing and monitoring, such as it is, is prompted by a review system.
134. In each case there is a "bring up" date inserted onto ICU Live. A daily list of all cases to be checked is then produced. This does ensure that cases are considered regularly and that reminders are issued to chase up information to progress cases but it does not always take account of the totality of time that the requests are outstanding and we found in some cases that no action was taken to follow up a lack of progress. In one case despite numerous requests being issued, four years elapsed with no effective action taking place.
135. In another case a straightforward request to check the existence of a person was issued in February 2012. The case was given a "bring up" date to be reviewed in April 2012 but this did not occur and it was not until August 2012 that the information was obtained and sent to the requesting authority.
136. In summary, despite ICU retaining a host of monthly statistics from a combination of sources, the data is not reliable and is thus of little value as a management tool for allocating and monitoring work, or collating information or providing replies to Freedom of Information requests.
137. The inaccuracies within the data can result in the information recorded by ICU portraying it in a poorer light than its performance actually merits. For example, from perusing the ICU spreadsheets we found an instance where the time taken to deal with the case was counted from the time that the file was opened rather than when the actual warrant had been received.
Documents in ICU Live
138. Within ICU Live, there is a "drop down" menu of available styles of letters of request, warrants and other documentation. However, the styles are not accessible to anyone other than those working in ICU and they cannot be amended, which is a significant limitation and runs the risk of an obsolete style being used. This results in prosecutors in the Federations creating and saving styles on their own desktop.
139. Further, importing documents into ICU Live is not straightforward and is further complicated if the document being imported originates from a different version of Microsoft Word as this results in the document not being accessible without a specific "workaround". There were many documents on ICU Live which we were unable to read due to this issue.
140. All correspondence is not routinely recorded on ICU Live and in order to have a complete picture both ICU Live and Outlook have to be examined. Since 2012, shared folders within Outlook have been created for each case and all emails relating to individual cases are saved in the shared folder. Almost all files since 2012 that we reviewed contained multiple emails and letters to and from other judicial authorities and other bodies indicative of good communication with external organisations. The shared folder allows general access to all emails by the ICU team, which is invaluable if others have to work on a case in the absence of the person to whom it was allocated. This frequently occurs when dealing with extradition matters as there is no control over when a person may be arrested.
141. There is also a generic email address within ICU so that incoming mail can be accessed by all, including the liaison SOCA officer who works within the Unit. This enables the SOCA officer to answer an incoming query without waiting for it to be referred to him. He is also able to action police investigation as soon as the case or query is received, thus minimising delays.
142. A full hard copy file exists for all cases containing a complete record of all documentation and correspondence. However, due to a lack of storage space the papers are presently retained in the Unit, which is unsuitable and does not make for a pleasant working environment.
143. In conclusion, while ICU has endeavoured to make the best use of various sources of data collection within the limits of their system, an upgrade of ICU Live or a bespoke IT system designed to suit the needs of the Unit is necessary to ensure more accurate and reliable recording of data.
An improved IT system with mandatory fields to ensure the accuracy and reliability of ICU data should be introduced.
In absence of a new IT system, the following measures should be implemented to improve the existing ICU Live system.
ICU Live should be re-configured to improve the formatting to make it easier to operate.
Systems should be introduced to allow managers to monitor and manage work in the Unit.
Functionality of ICU Live should be improved to allow styles to be amended, and redundant styles deleted or alternatively styles should be held elsewhere, such as the Knowledge Bank in an accessible and amendable form.
For certain categories of work such as outgoing requests for MLAs, where there is an active investigation, the request and all corresponding documentation should be scanned within the original case on the national IT system to provide a full record of the case in one location.