Judge John Tanzer retires: his massive contribution to Judicial I.T.

Judge John Tanzer, lately a Circuit Judge based at Croydon Crown Court (where I sat 30 years ago as a Crown Court Recorder), retires today.   Indeed, he retired from court sittings four months ago.  Since then he has been engaged full time in taking forward some of the judicial IT projects he has promoted over recent years, including one called ejudiciary, which I will describe below.  His contribution has been, to put it very simply, massive.

Last week, the ejudiciary board gave him a valedictory send-off.  The Senior Presiding Judge, Sir Adrian Fulford, was present, and the less formal celebrations afterwards (which were adjourned to a pub off Fleet Street) were interrupted by the arrival of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, to add his own personal thanks to John.   In his formal send-off, Sir Anthony Mann[1], the Chancery High Court Judge who chairs the board, said this:

“John Brian Camille Tanzer, you have been found guilty by the entire ejudiciary board, and indeed the entire judiciary, of serious crimes against the whole system of IT provision for judges.  The seriousness of what you have done is marked by the presence of Lord Justice Fulford and of Judge Judith Gleeson who, although not a board member, has attended for the tribunal judiciary to make sure that justice is done.   For many years you have failed to conform to the requirements of the Government Secure Intranet (gsi), and indeed refused to use your gsi address.   You have campaigned openly and without shame against judges being on the gsi and having the word “government” in their IT nomenclature.  Worse still, you have rebelled against the constraints imposed by the gsi on the adoption of better and up to date IT facilities.

When others were content to sigh and accept what they were given, you did none of that.  You insisted on trying to do something about it.  Unbidden and unauthorised, you went off to Microsoft and actually found out what else could be done.  In the course of this activity you suborned [a manager at HM Courts & Tribunals Service] and his colleagues, who did little to restrain you, and, I might add, shame on them.  Had you been able to do so you would probably have signed us all up to a new system that actually worked and given us what we needed at an early stage.

The result of your wanton and selfish activities is now apparent for all to see.  We now have available, and are distributing, hardware and software that is actually fit for purpose.  We are all faced with the potential disaster of being able to do our work anywhere and at any time we choose, on modern equipment and with up to date software. …  All this is down to your selfish and single-minded, nay tunnel-visioned, refusal to leave it up to FITS[2] and the MoJ[3] to modernise our system.

It is not clear that you will ever be forgiven for what you have done for the judiciary, and for all this I have to pass a heavy sentence.  You are sentenced to leave here and start your retirement bearing the burden of knowing that an entire judiciary is grateful to you for having triggered something that would have taken several more years to achieve if you hadn’t taken the course you did.   Furthermore, you are now required to use what is in this bag on a daily basis as a reminder of what you have left behind and the damage you have done.

We shall have to do what we can to struggle on with your legacy.  And you are, lastly, sentenced to have the good wishes of everyone around this table, judiciary and civil servants, for a long and enjoyable retirement, and to make a start on that you will be taken down, not to the cells but to a nearby establishment, to be plied with alcohol.”

In the bag were three different mugs, one of which I reproduce here:

eJudiciary Mug 1

What was this all about?

I first met John Tanzer when I invited him 15 years ago, as a newly appointed circuit judge with a formidable reputation for his knowledge of computers, to join one of the groups of judges who were helping me to take forward the Court Service’s bold court modernisation plans in those days.   A year later those plans were blasted out of the water by Treasury intransigence, but even before that happened John had been exhibiting distinct – and very outspoken – unease about certain features of the plans, and particularly about the fact that the judiciary was being tied into an intranet designed for civil servants which restricted their ability to improvise and which led to a perception that the judiciary were part of executive government, which they certainly are not.   In a sense John knew too much about I.T. at a time when most judges were only starting to learn how to use a computer, but I was always delighted that despite often being in a minority of one (or, possibly, two) he never gave up in his willingness to use his astonishing knowhow to find better ways of providing judges with the kind of high quality support they deserved.

And in the fullness of time people in high places started listening to a voice which had for overlong been crying in the wilderness.

In recent years John Tanzer has played a leading role in two developments which will greatly enhance the lives of every working judge.

The first, as I have said, is called ejudiciary.

Its fundamental concepts were, and still are, that it should be a judicial IT system which was:

  1. Independent from that of the civil service;
  2. Accessible from any internet connected device irrespective of the nature of the device or the physical location of the user;
  3. Usable either through a web browser by simply typing in [the URL] or capable of being integrated into desktop and mobile applications;
  4. Capable of operating as a One Stop Shop for all the resources needed by a judge;
  5. Built on existing proven off the shelf technology;
  6. A subscription service subject to constant automatic updating and therefore not ossified by expensive requests for services; and, finally
  7. The provider to full time judges of up to five copies of the latest version of Microsoft Office software.[4]

The core system was designed and built at effectively zero development cost by a representative of HMCTS[5], two representatives from Microsoft and John Tanzer himself. It is based on Office 365 for Business.

John has shown me how it is laid out.  This gives the flavour:

Tanzer 2

This is the first time in ten years that I have regretted not being back in the ranks of the judiciary.   It is, quite simply, a marvellous working tool, and as Anthony Mann implied, it could never have happened without John’s bloody-mindedness and tenacity – not to mention his programming skills.

The system has proved to be a popular success. It has now been rolled out to all magistrates and, John believes, to all the full time judiciary. Within the next few weeks it will be rolled out to Crown Court Recorders.

The other initiative is concerned with eBundles and the Digital Court System (DCS).

John has never personally believed in paperless as against paperlite courts.  He considers that paper printed locally for key documents can have advantages.

The driver for this initiative came from the Crown Prosecution Service which recognised that if they were to meet their budgetary targets they would have to do something about the cost of distributing paper. The cost of printing is relatively inconsequential.  It is movement, filing and destruction that are expensive.[6]

Without taking part in any procurement role, John was personally involved in the search for, and the selection of, a supplier, from which exercise Caselines (now known as DCS) emerged as the eventual front-runner.

The new system incorporates:

  1. A bundling side where all case papers can be aggregated;
  2. Papers given Information Rights (IRM);
  3. A User Interface so that the data can be deployed in the court room.

John’s main interest was in the third of these features.   He had already visited The Hague to look at the systems they had put in place for the International Criminal Court and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  From this experience he learned what should be avoided if the new system was to be popular with advocates and judges in this country.

He had many meetings with the developer of CaseLines in order to refine the interface so that it could be used with the relative familiarity of a set of lever-arch files but retain the power of electronic data with its search ability and speed of movement. This shows a sample case:


To give an example of its functionality, one can take the judge or anyone else to any page without their having to turn to it.  Interleaved pages keep their pagination without upsetting the pagination of others. Material does not only include text.  Notes can be private or shared.  The whole can be searched.  And above all, it works.  I remember the resident judge at the Southwark Crown Court telling me earlier this year how delighted he was with this new system when it was introduced into his court.

Although the driver for this initiative came from the field of criminal justice John Tanzer always took the view that with judges sitting across jurisdictions it made no sense not to use the same system (provided it was suitable) across the piste. This may now come about.

I will end this blog by quoting some remarks recently made by Judge Philip Wassall[7].  He said:

“I would like to repeat what I have been saying for years and will continue to say to anyone prepared to listen. The judiciary in general, and the Crown Court judiciary in particular, are in debt to John Tanzer for all that he has contributed to IT modernisation over the last twenty years or so.  Anthony Mann voiced most of my thoughts as to his contributions to ejudiciary, but in a nutshell, ejudiciary would never have got off the ground without John’s unique combination of knowledge, drive and dogged persistence.

However, an even greater contribution was the work he did towards the DCS which in my opinion is by far the best IT product delivered in the Courts IT sector and arguably overall in the Public Sector.  DCS works outstandingly well and that is in the main down to the work John put in to development and ensuring that the right decisions were made over delivery.  I know that but for him mistakes would have been made which would probably have led to an unsatisfactory system being commissioned.

For this and more we all need to thank him. The bottom line is that his has been the greatest single contribution to Judicial IT since the work done by those legendary pioneers Bill Vincent, Richard Stevens, Monty Trent and Geoff Edwards[2] starting in the last century.  He has certainly done more than anyone else combined to advance the cause of IT to assist the Circuit Bench in general and the Crown Court in particular.

For this and more we all need to thank him. I have been working in Judicial IT with him for 20 years.  We have mostly agreed, sometimes disagreed, but the whole experience of being on the ride with him and trying to keep up has been richly rewarding, particularly as it has enabled many hours in which I enjoyed his company and got to know this extraordinary man better than most.”

I agree and have nothing to add.



[1] In March 1986 Anthony Mann contributed the chapter on word-processing to the first ever guide to Computers for the Bar, which was published by a committee I chaired in 1985-6.

[2] Flexible Image Transport System.

[3] The Ministry of Justice.

[4] For many years the judiciary had been constrained by Treasury parsimony to continue to use Microsoft Office software which was eventually so far out of date that special arrangements had to be made to prevent it from collapsing. A speech by Lord Thomas in May 2014 entitled IT for the courts: creating a digital future paints the scene quite well.  In November 2014 he said:

“If that [investment] is not to go ahead for any reason at all, then in my view the justice system would face a severe crisis.  We have not been able to use modern technology, for example… in doing a judgment, I am doing it on Word 2003 with the XP operating system which Microsoft is supporting by special arrangement.”

He described the state of courtroom IT as “wholly antiquated”.

[5] Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service.

[6] I am aware of the serious complaints by defence solicitors that the cost of printing and distributing prosecution documents was transferred to them before anyone had resolved the difficulty that if their clients are in custody they are not yet permitted to receive such documents electronically in their places of detention, and the solicitors have to bear the cost of such printing and distribution without any additional reward from the legal aid fund.

[7] I made myself very popular with Philip nearly 20 years ago, when he was still a stipendiary magistrate, by encouraging him – and Inigo Bing – to write direct to the relevant minister (Geoff Hoon) in their quest to be provided with the same computer facilities that were at very long last being provided for the judiciary who were being supported by the Court Service.  Their request was granted.

[8] These four district judges made a quite enormous contribution in the days when I was responsible for judicial IT.

2 thoughts on “Judge John Tanzer retires: his massive contribution to Judicial I.T.

  1. Pingback: The Digital Court System – the future has arrived – Henry Brooke

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