3. Information Technology
3.1 The Knowledge Bank is accessed from the COPFS intranet (PF Eye). PF Eye is a database management system (DMS)6 based on an Oracle software application and uses HTML7. COPFS pay Oracle for licenses and it allows information to be edited, modified, indexed, published, retrieved and deleted. Access permissions are granted to nominated staff to manage content. For Knowledge Bank purposes access is granted to the Legal Editor and Library staff.
3.2 There are, however, limitations with the current software application, including the inability to provide information in different formats, for example, videos and links to e-learning modules, links to information from process maps8 and real-time interaction.
3.3 At present there are also no links from operational systems such as Future Office System (FOS) and Standard Office System (SOS)9 to information on the Knowledge Bank. If staff require to find information while working on cases they need to open the internal website in addition to operational systems and switch between the two. Further, there are no direct links to external sites such as Westlaw10, Linets11, etc which are frequently used by legal staff for the preparation of cases. Again, these have to be accessed separately.
3.4 Results from our feedback survey show that 54% of all respondents are of the view that direct links from operational systems to the Knowledge Bank would be helpful and 68% of all respondents indicated that direct links from the Knowledge bank to other data sites such as Linets and Westlaw would be beneficial. (See Annex A)
3.5 A further limitation is that there is no interactive facility to allow staff to provide feedback.
3.6 There are a number of options for searching for information on the Knowledge Bank including an A-Z menu, hot topics, recent additions/updates or through the search facility.
3.7 There are no limits on the number of search words/phrases that can be added when material is uploaded to the Knowledge Bank. Identifying search words is difficult as it involves trying to predict what terms users will search for especially if they are unable to remember the case/title, etc. To assist users, the Legal Editor may try to identify something significant or memorable about the case. One such example is a case where the defence counsel asked a witness how he could identify the accused if he was wearing a mask and the reply was 'you never forget the eyes of a killer'. The phrase 'eyes of a killer' is included as a search phrase.
3.8 If words are mis-spelt or entered incorrectly, the search facility does not suggest the correct word and it can result in multiple hits, many of which are irrelevant. For example, the phrase 'trial within a trial' without quotation marks produced 728 hits whereas using quotation marks reduced it to 19 hits. It is, therefore, extremely important that staff know how to make the best use of the facility.
3.9 To try to assist staff with the 'search' facility the Legal Editor created a list of 'top tips' on how to search for information which was publicised through a staff notice12. It provides guidance to users on how to be specific in their use of a search term when carrying out a search. So for example, if a search uses a subject heading such as 'culpable homicide' a huge amount of information will be detected but if a more specific term is used such as 'eggshell skull13' there will be fewer 'hits'.
3.10 Feedback from our survey showed that only 21% of all respondents find the search facility helpful, 44% find it helpful sometimes and 36% do not find it helpful (See Annex A). However, it is anticipated that the search facility will greatly improve as part of the proposed internal website upgrade (See paragraphs 3.14 to 3.17)
IT Support and Contingency Arrangements
3.11 COPFS Information Systems Division (ISD) staff with web development skills were responsible for maintaining the PF Eye including the Knowledge Bank. However, during this inspection, the staff with specialist development skills left ISD and have not been not replaced and as a result, if there are any issues which other IT staff cannot resolve then Oracle has to be called in resulting in additional cost to COPFS.
3.12 A system is in place whereby all information on the Knowledge Bank is backed up each week and it is stored on tape off site. If the system fails for any reason, much of the legal guidance is saved in a separate folder and it can be issued to staff through email.
3.13 Recent system failures of the PF Eye resulted in the Knowledge Bank not being available to staff. This caused difficulties in being able to access information urgently, for example, to obtain information on points of law. If PF Eye is unavailable for some time14, emails with important attachments are sent to all staff. For example, at the end of March 2013 an email was issued with attachments to the weekly staff notice and essential business information including a new style writ under S295 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and new finance codes, etc.
Upgrade of Intranet
3.14 In recognition of limitations of the current internal website a business case was prepared early in 2013 for a new intranet platform. The business case outlined various options, expected benefits, risks, cost, etc. It is planned that the new intranet will move to an open source platform15 such as Joomla16 and wiki technology17 allowing the content manager flexibility to customise it and this should allow for more features such as the uploading of DVDs, video links, online interaction such as RSS feed18 twitter and increased accessibility.
3.15 The new intranet will be supported and maintained by the IT provider at a set cost per annum, obviating the need for COPFS to employ web developers for this purpose and there are no licence costs. If a problem develops with the internal website such as a system failure or it becomes corrupt then it is the responsibility of the IT provider to fix it.
3.16 The proposed changes to the internal website were publicised in the June 2013 Bulletin19 along with the intention to conduct focus groups in summer 2013 to obtain input on users requirements. The workshops have concluded and there was a further opportunity for staff to provide feedback in the Communications Survey issued in August 201320. Similar views were identified in the focus groups and the survey and we are advised that these are being built into the requirements of the new website.
3.17 The next stage in the process is for the Project Board to meet with the supplier to map out requirements. We note from the updated business case in July 2013 that it is expected that the project will be available for testing in November 2013 and it is anticipated that it will be up and running by the end of the calendar year21. This upgrade is clearly central to many of the improvements that have been identified in this report.
3.18 In comparing the COPFS Knowledge Bank with the CPS equivalent we found that the systems were very similar in that knowledge information on the CPS system provides staff with current policy, guidance, procedures, articles, case law, bulletins, etc to aid them in processing cases.
3.19 Other similarities include dedication to ensuring the site is user friendly, organised and accessible; keeping staff up to date through weekly 'Gateway' summaries, CPS Newsletters and 'Liveboards' (community forums). There are comparable issues with uploading and linking DVDs, search engine and version control.
3.20 The main differences between the two systems are that the CPS site is available to the public and therefore does not contain restricted guidance and that there are direct links to external legal resource sites and an interactive feedback button.
3.21 There is currently a project being piloted in COPFS where iPads are used in procedural courts (Pleading and Intermediate courts)22. The iPad is loaded with cases calling in these courts thus reducing the need to take papers to court. Legal staff access cases on the iPad and update the online minute sheet at court. This is later uploaded back to the case management system by administrative staff.
3.22 As part of this project, provision exists for enabling access to the Knowledge Bank on the iPad at court via Wi-Fi connection but this cannot be progressed until there is Wi-Fi availability at courts. An alternative to using iPads that is currently being explored is downloading the Knowledge Bank on separate e-reader devices.
3.23 Feedback from our survey showed that 95% of legal respondents were of the view that it would be helpful for Deputes in court to have a direct link to the Knowledge Bank through an iPad. (See Annex A)
3.24 Work is also being undertaken by COPFS to load, store, view and disclose CCTV electronically and in the longer term it is hoped that the development of such technology may help with loading of DVDs, etc on Knowledge Bank.