Criminal lawyers have given a cautious, if somewhat bemused, welcome to the news (due to be formally announced later today) that Criminal Justice Secure Email is to be officially discontinued from June 1st.
They may be less pleased to learn that the Government plans to enact emergency legislation requiring them to acquire new computer programming skills. The radical plan is designed to ensure that despite the admitted failure of CJSM, the Ministry of Justice’s vision of an entirely digital courtroom nevertheless becomes a reality.
Under the proposals the widely disliked secure email system is to be temporarily “mothballed” whilst the Digital Case System will, in the words of the MoJ’s press release, be “simplified and streamlined.” Senior civil servants have reportedly accepted representations from the Criminal Law Solicitors Association and the Criminal Bar Association that the current systems have not produced the benefits expected. The department yesterday published official statistics showing that the average time from receipt of a case by the Crown Court to its completion has increased from 164 in 2013 to a disappointing 204 days now.
Justice Secretary Michael Gove said:
“I have listened to the concerns of Criminal Bar Association, and I would imagine that criminal solicitors are thinking along similar lines. I have also sought advice from the Attorney-General, who has had direct personal experience of cases involving a video link. As a result he has been able to bring into into Government a facility with information technology which is unmatched by any other member of the Cabinet.”
“I accept that the present system, which was of course entirely devised by my predecessor, has failed fully to live up to expectations. However, digital justice is here to stay and I expect the professions to assist in making the replacement work.”
According to Dame Avril Fisher, the Ministry of Justice’s Head of IT Procurement:
“MS DOS has been chosen from a crowded field because it is a tried and tested operating system. It has been stress-tested since 1981 and we believe it is ideally suited to the heavy demands that we intend to place upon it.
“Once practitioners have mastered MS DOS we will expect them to purchase a modem and dial in to the world-wide-web.”
Dame Avril was alive to the danger that exchanging information in this way might pose a security risk.
“In order that the integrity of the system can be maintained we would expect practioners to make themselves familiar with the basic principles of cryptography.”
An almost entirely secret programme has been furiously active since early January when it became clear that CJSM was not performing as models had predicted. Working in close association with the Crown Prosecution Service, the Ministry of Justice has built a number of “cryptographic engines” based upon an updated Word War 2 Enigma machine.
“It is simplicity itself yet they are capable of encrypting any electronic mail in a way that we believe to be completely unbreakable.
“It has all been explained to me by the Government’s chief consultant cryptographer, Enigma expert Louise Dade:
“There are five possible rotors that can be used in any order for the three rotor positions: right, middle, left. Each rotor has an inner ring of contacts and an outer ring of contacts and their purpose is to scramble the signal. The outer ring contacts connect each rotor to the next rotor (or the static rotor / reflector) as well as its own inner ring. The inner ring contacts can be rotated relative to the outer ring which results in even more possible connections (and therefore, letter substitutions). The whole rotor itself can be rotated relative to the static rotor, so that the static rotor ‘A’ output is not connected to ‘A’ input on the rotating rotor. Furthermore, as each letter is entered the rotors rotate by one position, so that the same letters are never connected together in the same message. To add further complication, each rotor has a notches (different rotors have the notch in different positions) which when reached, causes the next rotor to its left to step forward too. In the case of the middle rotor, it causes the left rotor to step as well as itself.”
Obviously practitioners will need to acquire their own Saunders Bombes, but at a cost of just ten thousand pounds (plus VAT) Dame Avril is confident that they will be well within the budget of every chambers and solicitors’ firm in the country.
“We are grateful to the Ministry of Defence which has managed – I’m not quite sure how and frankly I don’t like to ask too many questions – to obtain a considerable reduction in cost by linking the manufacture of Saunders Bombes to the supply of Hellfire missiles and exceptionally sharp swords to our Saudi friends, who, I should add, have given their assurance that they will use them only for peaceful purposes.”
However, in order for the system to work practitioners will need more than just a Saunders Bombe. They will also need to have access to a wireless set. Every morning at 05.00 the Ministry of Justice Master Bombe will generate a key which will be secretly embedded into the Radio 4 Shipping Forecast. For example the seemingly innocuous phrase “North Utsire, five, good,” would indicate that practitioners should turn the fifth rotor of their own Bombes so that the “N” corresponds to what had previously been the “U” position, while the phrase “Scilly, cyclonic,” would tell trained operators to spin all their rotors randomly and hope for the best.
Since the Shipping Forecast will now be considered sensitive material it has been thought best for it to be read in the future not by a meteorologist but by a qualified and appropriately vetted lawyer. In the first phase of the roll-out the reader will be the hugely respected Charon QC, who will be based at an undisclosed location in the Scottish Highlands.
Whatever happens, Dame Avril is determined not to return to the bad old days of paper and ink. Printing any document received via a Saunders Bombe will render anyone handling the document liable to prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.