The Ministry of Justice quietly makes some courts performance figures available through online tools
Figures indicating the performance of English and Welsh law courts are now available through new data tools on the web. But transparency campaigners have said the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) new dashboard falls far short of what could be done with live data.
The dashboard provides access to data drawn from the HM Courts and Tribunals Service’s CREST management information system, showing the workload and performance of individual courts.
One figure certain to attract attention is the comparison in the percentage of what lawyers call “cracked” trials - those that do not go ahead, usually because a defendant suddenly decides to plead guilty. The dashboard shows the percentage, long cited as a symbol of the inefficiency of the criminal justice system, varies widely: in the year to 31 March it was 53.6% in Bradford and 23.7% in Bristol.
Other figures include the average duration and number of hearings of cases, by offence group, and the waiting list of outstanding cases.
The website cautions that because some local court averages are based on a small number of cases, the figures are not always comparable (though hovering over the charts reveals the number of disposed cases).
Campaigners for transparency in the justice system welcomed the development - so far as it goes. Barrister Francis Davey, a leading advocate for the opening of courts data, noted that the MoJ is still wedded to the concept of publishing statistics rather than raw data.
“Governments seem to like producing statistics and not data, but data has more information in it and is (if done right) less work to release,” Davey said.
William Perrin, former Cabinet Office senior civil servant and hyperlocal blogger said: “It's great HMCTS are doing this, but for the data to be genuinely useful this publication needs to be a step on a journey to near real time data so we can see when courts are having problems and hold people to account.
"For instance, if a policy or expenditure change leads to courts clogging up we need to know swiftly to hold the justice secretary or home secretary to account. Quarterly updates and many revisions are very much management data if the past, not the stats one needs to keep track of a complex real time system. The end goal should be to publish data at an identifiable case by case level.”
But there are signs that the MoJ is beginning to take open data seriously. The annual report also announces the creation of a new data evidence and science advisory board under Sir Michael Barber, former head of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit under Tony Blair.
“We will also build on the success of the Justice Data Lab by exploring ways of opening our data, learning from academia and drawing on evidence of best practice internationally,” the report says.
Potential obstacles range from financial restraints - the ministry will have to halve its spending by 2010 - and political shake-ups. Current secretary of state Michael Gove is understood to be behind the agenda - but his future is depends entirely on the new prime minister.
Picture: istock/Anthony Baggett