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25th Jan 2023

New data panel must resist lawtech to maintain public confidence in justice

The new Senior Data Governance Panel (SDGP) established by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to inform decisions on access to and use of court data will undermine public confidence in the justice system if it focuses solely on serving the needs of the growing lawtech industry, says Dr Natalie Byrom, the architect of the current courts data strategy.

The MoJ announced the formal establishment of the SDGP this week and has launched a process to recruit five independent members to provide expert advice and guidance to Ministers and the judiciary relating to novel and contentious requests for access to justice records and data.

The panel has been operating as a ‘shadow’ panel since November 2020.

Dr Byrom, the head of the Legal Education Foundation’s Justice Lab initiative, and the author of the Digital Justice report commissioned by HM Courts & Tribunals Service setting out a proposed data strategy in 2019, said:

The announcement of the formal establishment of the Senior Data Governance Panel is an important, if overdue, step in creating an effective system for managing court data. However, it is vital that the panel maintains a laser focus on the role of data in improving the justice system for all rather than serving commercial interests.  

Work we carried out with Ipsos UK last summer demonstrated that the public is deeply sceptical about allowing companies to access bulk data from the courts and to do so risks undermining wider confidence in the justice system as a whole.

Dr Byrom, who has sat on the shadow Data Panel for the last two years, believes that the independent panel members should be drawn from specialists in data from civil society and representatives of court users.

It is essential that the independent members with the best expertise and experience are appointed to the panel, and that the public’s views and concerns about the use of court data are properly embedded in its work. To maintain public confidence it is also essential that the panel’s deliberations and decisions are open and transparent, and that minutes are placed in the public domain.