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Open Justice?

old-bailey statue
The Old Bailey.
Credit: reaction magazine.

At Open Innovations, we’re always looking for ways to harness the use of open data to make a positive impact on the way society works. Our newest project will look into how open data can improve the administration of justice, and embody the principle of open justice.

What is ‘open justice’?

The principle of open justice is simple, it means that processes and decisions within a judicial system are open and accessible. This aims to help the public understand and scrutinise the justice system. 

The use of open data can help by providing evidence with which to scrutinise the system and providing accessible resources to digest what goes on.

This is nice and topical at the moment as the UK Government is taking steps to promote open justice through the use of open data. For example, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is currently recruiting for a Senior Data Governance Panel to advise decision makers in the justice system on the use of judicial data. Just recently, The Justice Select Committee reported on digital justice, and was critical of the way in which the principle of open justice was being treated by the government. We’ll be tracking the government’s responses and programmes to see whether anything happens.

What is the administration of justice?

The administration of justice is the process by which the legal system of a government is executed. There are a few ways open data can impact this. It can help analyse those who pass through the justice system; producing results on reoffending rates, the links between socio-economic factors and certain offences and figures on numbers of offences committed. 

However, this analysis is not as easy as you would expect. For example, there is a structure of data problem between the organisations who make up the courts and tribunal system. The unit of observation differs. The Crown Prosecution Service will identify by defendant, the Judicial Office by judge, HM Courts and Tribunal Service by Case and the MoJ by person. This a problem for data analysis because in one case, there may have been 5 defendants and numerous offences. This problem is currently being addressed by the MoJ's data first programme, but the system continues to function in the same way. We also want to look at how the improper use of data can impact on the administration of justice. For example, the data collected by the Met Police in their Gang Violence Matrix has been the subject of much scrutiny. The organisation was served an Information Commissioners Enforcement Notice in 2018 for Data Protection breaches and recently was found to have breached article 8 of the ECHR, the right to a private and family life. The service says the Matrix is being overhauled but we'll keep an eye on this.

What are we doing?

Our aim for this project is to examine whether these initiatives will make any difference, looking for innovative ideas that can help and digesting the area to make it more accessible. Across a 3 month project, we’ll gather information, talk to people working in the area and see what we can do to help open data impact open justice. We’ll publish our useful resources and conversations on our project hub and if you think you can help, please get in touch with Louis Connell.