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28th Feb 2023

Parliamentary event - taking stock and looking forward

Last week, Justice Lab hosted the first of a series of events to celebrate what the organisation has already achieved, and share our plans for the future. In this blog post, Dr Natalie Byrom, Director of Justice Lab, reflects on our Parliamentary showcase. 

It was a privilege to be at our Parliamentary event last week surrounded by so many people – politicians, judges, lawyers, journalists, funders and researchers – who are committed to enhancing the role of data and evidence in shaping the way our justice system works.

We know that if Justice Lab is going to continue to make an impact, we need to do more than simply undertake and commission research. We need to build a community of organisations and individuals committed to change – and work to influence decision-makers too.

Bringing together our partners at events like the one held last week is crucial to this, and also provides an opportunity to remind everyone that, while the Justice Lab brand is new, as an initiative we have an established body of work, and a strong record of achievement on which we can build.

After all, the Justice Lab team has been operating within The Legal Education Foundation now since 2018, ever since an advisory group chaired by Professor Dame Hazel Genn was convened to examine what needs to be done to increase the quality and quantity of robust research about the justice system.

That group, which also included Sir Ernest Ryder who spoke at last week’s event, found that the lack of good data about the justice system undermines our ability to produce robust research and deters funders and organisations from investing in this space. 

What’s more it said that where good research was produced, it often failed to gain traction because of a lack of an effective means of influencing those in charge of decisions – the judiciary, civil servants, Ministers and others.

We want to help change this, and our work in 2019 drafting a data strategy for HM Courts and Tribunals Service has helped to shape justice data policy in a number of ways- including leading to the creation of a new repository for judgments and decisions at The National Archives. It’s also why we undertook the research in collaboration with Ipsos last summer to explore public perceptions about the use of information held in court records.

The report, Justice Data Matters, was submitted to support discussions within the MoJ’s Senior Data Governance Panel and I am pleased that this body is now a permanent feature, providing the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice with expert advice to help make better decisions about what data should be made available and to who.

Like any new initiative, the panel will require further development to ensure that its advice is robust. In particular, there is a need for the panel to strengthen its understanding of public attitudes to justice data sharing, to ensure that the advice it gives leads to decisions that command public trust. But the panel’s existence is a vital step towards improving justice data governance, and one I am proud that Justice Lab has been able to support.

The event last week was an important opportunity to celebrate how far we have come, and raise awareness of our existing work with comment pieces in The Times and Law Society Gazette, and a lovely blog from Joshua Rozenberg.

But we are focused on our ongoing work and we have a number of key projects in development. In the context of the forthcoming Ministry of Justice consultation on Open Justice, we are expanding our work to explore public attitudes to data collection, sharing and the use of AI across the justice system.

We will also be continuing and growing our #JusticeDataMatters campaign, working with frontline organisations, journalists and researchers to map data gaps across the justice system, explain why they matter and identify the action needed to fill them.

And, next month, we will be building on our work on the Victims Bill, by holding a second workshop with experts to develop policy proposals that improve data collection and sharing to improve the experience of victims across the criminal justice system.

So, we are proud of what the team at Justice Lab has achieved so far, and we are indebted to the work of so many people – many of them at the event last week – who have helped us get to this point. But we also know that there is much still to do to ensure that the justice system is able to use data and evidence effectively- to design policies, to allocate resources and crucially, to learn from and respond to the experience of those who rely on it.

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