All court users could be tracked through unique identifying numbers as part of a ‘robust’ approach to collecting data on the £1bn courts reform programme, an expert adviser to HM Courts & Tribunals Service has recommended. In a report published by the Legal Education Foundation charity, Dr Natalie Byrom, director of research, also recommends 'free and comprehensive' public access to court judgments, in a machine-readable format.
Byrom's report follows a three-month secondment to HMCTS to find ways of measuring the impact of reform. She concludes that 'a robust strategy for data collection, analysis and sharing' is critical to building trust in the reformed processes and encouraging people to adopt them. To this end, 'data must be collected to confirm that existing legal duties relating to access to and the fairness of the justice system, as well as obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty are met.'
Among the report's 27 recommendations is a proposal that, for the first time, courts collect data on individual users rather than cases. This might require 'unique identifiers' by which individuals could be followed through the system. The report states that experts in privacy law and data ethics should be consulted before such a system is designed. Users' data would have to be 'appropriately anonymised' before being made available for research and policy making.
According to Byrom, the reform programme creates an unprecedented opportunity for sharing data about the justice system to improve access to justice. As 'a matter of urgency' the courts system should publish a catalogue of data. Published data should include the outcomes of all cases, including those abandoned or settled.
To improve access to judgments, 'HMCTS and the MoJ should engage with key stakeholders to develop a publication solution that delivers free and comprehensive access to judgments in a structured machine-readable format.'