Justice Data- What's Happening?
Having introduced our project on open data and open justice on the 9th Feb, we’ve been looking at what’s currently happening with justice data. This post will focus on what’s being done by the UK Government within the Courts and Tribunal Service of England and Wales.
What is justice system data?
Justice system data is information generated by the process of justice. What we’re concerned with is how it is collected, stored and published in a jurisdiction.
The decline in court reporting (at 22-32) means that public access to information from the justice system is very important for facilitating public understanding and scrutiny of the justice system. The media have always played an important role in bridging the gap between courts and citizens, and open access to justice system data needs to fill the gap if court reporting declines.
What’s happening within the Justice System?
In the UK, the use of this data to promote the principles of open justice has been the source of much discussion in the last few years. The HMCTS is currently working through a reform programme to modernise.
In October 2019, Dr Natalie Byrom from the Legal Education Foundation published a report on Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service’s data strategy and its relationship with access to justice. In October 2020, HMCTS accepted many of the recommendations made. Additionally, in November 2022 the Justice Committee published its report on ‘Open Justice: court Reporting in the digital age’. Amongst many recommendations, the report suggested that:
- ‘HMCTS’ should publish a citizen’s charter that outlines the public’s rights to access information in the courts.
- ‘HMCTS’ and the Government should establish a framing process for accessing court documents, including court lists, using a digital portal modelled on PACER in the US.
What has been achieved?
Improving the openness of the justice system has to be carefully weighed against other principles such as privacy and the independence of the judiciary. However, access to information such as judgments, court listings and attendances can sufficiently balance all competing principles. Therefore, lots of the data from the justice system is fit to publish. So, how have things progressed?
- In April 2022, the National Archives became responsible for the storage and publication of judgements, increasing access to case law. Previously, BAILI was the main source, which relied on judges participating.
- HMCTS management data has been published and is openly available.
- A ‘Senior Data Governance Panel’ is now recruiting. This panel will be made up of judges, officials and independent experts. This will provide advice and guidance to decision makers within the HMCTS making choices about open justice.
- The ‘SDGP’ was announced in 2020. It is only being formalised 3 years later. This is slow progress. This was to play a large role in the reform of HMCTS, as outlined in the 2020 response. It is therefore worrying that this is only now being formalised.
- Many of the targets set out in the Data Strategy of December 2021 have not been met, or updates have not been published:
- ‘A data catalogue for open and shared data resources will be published by the end of 2021/2022 ‘
- The hub for these data catalogues was first published in June 2021, and has been updated just twice since. HMCTS management data is currently the only dataset openly available.
- ‘Our Master and Reference Data project will identify enterprise-level master and reference data by the end of 2021/2022’.
- It is unclear what work has been done in this area, as it has not been published or made easily accessible. This is a problem. Dr Byrom’s report aimed to increase publication and build trust.
- ‘The HMCTS Strategic Data Platform, to be completed by spring 2023’
- The last update easily available online for this initiative indicates that applications to help build the platform closed in November 2021. The platform may be on track, but again there is a lack of accessible updates
- In the Government’s response to the Justice Select Committee, it declined to agree with recommendations such as creating a digital portal akin to the PACER system used in the US.
How are we going to help?
We’re going to find case studies of the use of open data to promote justice, and see if we can speed things up through collaboration. One example is the work of the No.10 Criminal Court of Buenos Aires, Argentina, who have created an open data repository and dashboard to publish information about their court. Look out for more on this coming soon. As ever, if you think you can help, don’t hesitate to get in touch.