Strengthening our legal data infrastructure

With the legal sector generating more and more data, the ODI and Thomson Reuters are exploring which datasets should be open, and how to improve data sharing in the sector. Following a discovery workshop, Amanda Smith invites the community to pitch in ahead of a white paper on strengthening our legal data infrastructure

null Giant Gavel. CC BY 2.0, uploaded by aloha75.

From court listings to case law, legislation to court transcripts, the criminal justice and legal sector generates vast amounts of data each day.

The data landscape and ways in which it is exchanged across the sector are complex and often underpinned by systems that weren’t designed for effective data sharing or publishing.

Taking a more open approach for the sector would help to address inequality, inefficiency and accountability. It would inform public policy, improve access to justice and contribute to public confidence in court proceedings. There are several steps the sector could take to adopt a more open approach. It could open up new data sources and improve data sharing for those in the sector in order to improve trust, create opportunities for collaboration and help people to understand the legal process from the outset. Finally, it could work to engage people in the ecosystem with more accessible data.

Adopting an open approach for the legal sector: key considerations

Transforming the ways in which organisations collect, manage and publish legal data will present certain challenges that must be made clear from the outset. An important point of reference here is the Data Spectrum, which can help us to categorise data, from ‘closed’ to ‘shared’ to ‘open’. Some data should be open, some shared between groups and some closed, depending on its type.

Any approach to making data open must balance transparency with privacy. Data that needs to be private should be kept private. Within the context of the legal sector, a strong focus must be placed on ensuring that vulnerable victims, witnesses and defendants are protected in sensitive cases. However, where data can be open – such as judgements (case law), court listings or court performance statistics – it should be open. Both privacy and openness build trust, and our openness principles for organisations handling personal data can guide organisations in getting the balance right.

Paving the way for a more open legal sector: discovery workshop

In September 2016, Thomson Reuters and the ODI gathered publishers of legal data, policy makers, law firms, researchers, startups and others working in the sector for a discovery workshop. Its aims were to explore important data types that exist within the sector, and map where they sit on the data spectrum, discuss how they flow between users and explore the opportunities that taking a more open approach could bring.

The notes from the workshop explore current mechanisms for collecting, managing and publishing data, benefits of wider access and barriers to use. There are certain questions that remain unanswered – for example, who owns the copyright for data collected in court. The notes are open for comments, and we invite the community to share their thoughts on these questions, the data types discussed, how to make them more open and what we might have missed.

Strengthening data infrastructure in the legal sector: next steps

Following this workshop we are working in partnership with Thomson Reuters to explore data infrastructure – datasets, technologies and processes and organisations that maintain them – in the legal sector, to inform a paper to be published later in the year. The paper will focus on case law, legislation and existing open data that could be better used by the sector.

The Ministry of Justice have also started their own data discovery project, which the ODI have been contributing to. You can keep up to date on their progress by following the MOJ Digital and Technology blog and we recommend reading their data principles.

Get involved

We are looking to the legal and data communities to contribute opinion pieces and case studies to the paper on data infrastructure for the legal sector. If you would like to get involved, contact us