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21st Jul 2021

Justice Data in the Digital Age: Balancing risks and opportunities


Justice systems worldwide are embracing technology to support the delivery of a range of functions- from streamlining administrative processes such as e-filing and triage, to transforming the way in which decisions are reached through online dispute resolution and remote hearings. The measures put in place to tackle the spread of COVID-19 have accelerated these trends. One aspect of digitisation that has been largely overlooked is the impact of these trends on the volume, quality and availability of data on the operation of justice systems.

In England and Wales, a number of recent developments have focussed attention on these questions. The government has made a series of investments intended to “pump-prime” the nascent law-tech sector, driving demand for data held by the court service. The announcement of the creation of a new repository and publishing service for judgments, hosted by The National Archives, has prompted debates around appropriate levels of coverage and access.

In parallel, the government has announced the creation of a new governance mechanism to deal with requests for access to data held by HMCTS on the operation of the courts. This investment is welcome, however, the rapid pace of technological change, information asymmetries between the public and private sector, the lack of a public mandate for secondary data use and the absence of an evidence base to inform decisions creates pressing challenges for governance. The experience of and more recently, GPDPR has demonstrated that once public trust in data-sharing is lost, it is lost for good, and with it, the potential benefits that data sharing can deliver.

What are the key risks in making more data about the justice system available? How can we secure the benefits of sharing justice data more widely whilst managing these risks? Who should have access to this data, for what purposes? What are the dangers of proceeding without a public mandate?

About the event

In 2020, The Legal Education Foundation commissioned leading academic Dr Judith Townend to explore what can be learned from international practice. Her report, co-authored with Cassandra Wiener, Justice system data: a comparative study details the arrangements developed in Australia, Canada and Ireland, and exposes the common challenges and tensions across these jurisdictions.

This webinar, chaired by Joshua Rozenberg QC brings together an expert panel to discuss the findings of Dr Townend’s report. Drawing on the experience of data sharing in other jurisdictions and policy areas, panellists will identify the steps that must be taken to ensure that improved justice data delivers on its promise of increasing trust in and access to the justice system. Panellists include:

  • Carly Kind, Director of the Ada Lovelace Institute
  • Jeni Tennison OBE, Vice President of the Open Data Institute
  • Dr Judith Townend, Senior Lecturer, University of Sussex
  • Prof. Nicolas Vermeys, Deputy Director, Cyber Justice Laboratory

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