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Report recommends data measures for Courts Service

03/10/19

Mark Say Managing Editor

A report compiled for HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has urged it to consider unique identifiers for people involved in the justice system.

Justice statue

It is one of a series of recommendations that also include several measures to support data sharing and the idea of of an external facing catalogue of the system’s data.

The Digital Justice: HMCTS data strategy report has been authored by Dr Natalie Byrom, director of research at the Legal Education Foundation, to feed into the service’s efforts to develop a more open and inclusive justice system for England and Wales.

HMCTS brought in Byrom during the autumn of last year to advise on strategies for its academic engagement and improve how it makes data available for research purposes.

The document highlights a number of issues around how the better collection of data can support a minimum standard of access to justice and provide insights that feed into the reform of processes. This could maintain legal obligations and strengthen public trust in the system.

Identifier possibility

The first recommendation is that HMCTS should consider the benefits and risks of unique identifiers for individuals, consulting experts in privacy law and data ethics and testing whether the public would accept the idea.

This derives from existing commitments to create mechanisms to make it easier to follow individuals and cases as they progress through justice system. It would also require that data associated with the identifiers is captured, stored and utilised in line with established legal and ethical requirements.

A clutch of recommendations cover the future collection of data, focused on features such as subjective perceptions of justice procedures, fairness in online processes, data on the impact of design architecture and behavioural ‘nudges’, and applications for enforcement.

The report also calls for an urgent review of the internal position on data and prioritise the production of an external facing data catalogue. This would include details on the data held, who is responsible for each dataset, where it is stored, the relative quality, who is allowed to see it and why, and the existing arrangements for accessing particular types of data.

Another conclusion is that the existing Data Access Panel is unlikely to cope with increased demand for data sharing and there is an urgent need for a medium term solution to reduce the burden on HMCTS.

There is also a recommendation in favour of funding data engineering scholarships.

Fundamental questions

In response to the report, HMCTS chief executive officer Susan Acland-Hood said: “We want to spend some time thinking with the Ministry of Justice and senior judiciary about the recommendations in the report. Some are straightforward but others raise quite fundamental questions about data and justice which are being nationally and internationally.

“Once we’ve done that work we’ll set out our plans in more detail.”

She added that the report “will be crucial in informing how we continue to create, manage and apply data to underpin the Reform Programme, in particular how we evaluate the programme”, and claimed progress has already been made in some areas.

Image from iStock, Anthony Baggett

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