Courts listing data – one step back

scales of justiceI reported in December that there was some hope of a hack event to try and open up the enormously rich and impactful courts listing data from magistrates courts.  Sadly this has been spiked as we hit a bureaucratic obstacle.  Officials, without any discussion with experts on the Crime and Justice Transparency panel have concluded that they can get data out of the antiquated LIBRA system but:

‘The main difficulty with such an approach is that the data within Libra is not held in a way in which it can be filtered to exclude or identify those cases where there is a reporting restriction and does not always have the relevant data fields completed to recognise where a case ought not to be reported (for example youth cases). Using a solution such as this would, in effect, mean that HMCTS would be knowingly disclosing information in breach of any instruction on several cases every day.’

Paper 4 – Crime and Justice Sector Transparency Panel 14 February 2014

And as a footnote to this MOJ report that we shall have to wait a couple of years before any data becomes available

Now obviously to anyone used to working with data this is somewhat defeatist.  And misses the modern potential for external experts to help busy, traditional government bureaucracies.  It’s an old civil service trick to resort to absolute risk aversion when you need an excuse – it’s this approach rather than intelligent risk management that so often layers in cost and complexity to public sector projects.  So at the Transparency Panel Francis Davey and I in particular are plugging away to work our way around this.  Whilst it’s galling to give your time for free and meet this sort of obstructionism, I’m always happy to plough on as penance for the time I spent being complicit in it when in the civil service.

So much activity at MOJ around courts only supports the ‘gentlemens club atmosphere’ (a leading barristers words not mine) that surrounds any given court.  And this episode is hardly illustrative of a flat out drive for open-ness.  Indeed, on the Transparency Panel, we are still waiting since the Autumn for a credible list of data sets that forms the MOJ part of the National Information Infrastructure.

A regular member of the public still can’t find out what is happening in their local magistrates court and when.  In an age of declining local papers, justice is not seen to be done.  It still beggars belief that this is the same British court system that has prided itself on open-ness since the C17th when a judge ordered the doors of the court to be flung open.  And where senior judges make pious speeches about the importance of open justice.

To pick up the full back story search this website for ‘courts’.

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William Perrin

Founder of Talk About Local, Trustee of the Indigo Trust, member of UK Government transparency panels, former Policy Advisor to UK Prime Minister, former Cabinet Office senior civil servant.Open data do-er, Kings Cross London blogger. Loves countryside. Two kids, not enough sleep.
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