Dr Kieron O’Hara – CHAIR
Prof. Allan Brimicombe, University of East London
Will Perrin, Talk About Local
Paul Clarke, Honestlyreal
Jonathan Bamford, Information Commissioner’s Office
Ailsa Beaton, Metropolitan Police Service
Emer Coleman, Greater London Authority
Liam Maxwell, Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead
Joe Tuke, Victim Commissioner’s Office
Josh Dodd, Office of the Senior Presiding Judge
Melissa Case, Ministry of Justice
Iain Bell, Ministry of Justice
Simon Denison, Ministry of Justice
Gus Jaspert, Home Office
Rebecca Bradfield, Home Office
Lucienne Edge, Ministry of Justice (minute taker)
Jeff Gardner, Victim Support
Phil Golding, Office of the Senior Presiding Judge
Cass Chideock, Cabinet Office
1. Welcome and Introductions
2. Explanation of the purpose of the Panel
The purpose of the Panel was outlined by the chair:
- To promote accountability and protect the taxpayer’s right to information;
- Increase public confidence in crime and justice data releases;
- Represent stakeholders groups’ views and interests; and
- Challenge, advise and support delivery of the Government’s transparency agenda in crime and justice.
It was brought to the Panel’s attention that the group’s membership does not have representation from a wide range of external stakeholder groups – in particular those representing local grassroots groups. The Chair was concerned that inviting more members risked making the panel unwieldy but agreed to consider this issue on an individual basis.
Action 1: Copy of the Cabinet Office Transparency Board Terms of Reference to be circulated to the Panel.
3. Terms of Reference
The Terms of Reference were agreed.
4. Oral Update on the Crime and Justice Transparency Strategic Group
Melissa Case, co-chair of Crime and Justice Transparency Strategic Group (CJTSG) provided a verbal update on the first meeting of the group. Its aim is to provide strategic direction for the delivery of transparency in the areas of crime and justice.
In the general discussion there was a consensus that there should be improved guidance on what crime and justice information should and should not be placed in the public domain. The revised guidance on publicising sentencing outcomes was mentioned, which places an emphasis on local decision making and assessing the proportionality of publishing specific sentencing outcomes on a case-by-case basis.
It was agreed that the decision making process regarding the release of information should be clear and transparent. The issue of an inconsistent approach between local and national reporting was raised, with some members of the Panel stating that there should be comprehensive and unbiased reporting of all cases, subject to reporting restrictions.
Members of the Panel said that it may be useful to include more data user groups in the debate around transparency as this would add value to delivery, such as the users of Police.uk. In addition the profile of the debate could be raised through increased engagement with the data user community and making better use of extant contact networks.
Melissa Case raised the issue of the wholesale naming of offenders had been discussed at the last Strategic Board. Will Perrin was clear on the need for a public debate and for disclosure of information to be driven by local needs and discretion. The issue of naming prompted a wide ranging debate that included points around engagement with the data developer community, the impacts on offenders’ life chances following disclosure, the need for consistent data releases of sufficient data quality, the relevance of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and the potential for a database of sentenced offenders to become an alternative Criminal Records Bureau check.
Discussions also took place on whether there should be a two-tiered approach to disclosing information, i.e. a general release for public use and a more in-depth version for the victim, and what should be made available to each group.
Action 2: Will Perrin to highlight the subject of naming offenders on Talk About Local to promote public debate.
Action 3: Emer Coleman to raise the issue of naming of offenders on her blog.
Action 4: Kieron O’ Hara to send the Panel a link to his interim report on privacy and transparency.
Action 5: Panel members to utilise networks to contact groups and individuals for comments and views on the issue of naming offenders. The secretariat offered support if required by panel members, and consider with the Chair whether new members should be added to the panel and guest speakers invited to talk over key issues.
5. Crime and justice transparency commitments delivered to date and future plans
Gus Jaspert (Deputy Director Local Policing, Crime and Justice Unit, Home Office) and Iain Bell (MoJ Chief Statistician) provided a verbal update. To date sentencing data for each Crown court for 2005-2010 by offence type, street-level crime data, as well as corporate data (e.g.spending levels over £500) have been released.
The Panel stated that more thought should be given to the type of information the public would like to receive and how it should be presented, for example exact locations for crime hotspots and times of crimes, as the current street-level crime data on Police.uk do not show that level of detail. Gus Jaspert acknowledged there is still work to do in order to improve the system, but said the immediate next step would be increased detail on the offence categories.
Iain Bell said that one of the key challenges is retrofitting administrative databases for transparency purposes as they were not designed to be used in this way. However, he acknowledged that there was more work that could be done to improve the information available to the public, such as providing service accessibility information (e.g. location of nearest prison and its visiting hours).
The Panel expressed an interest in seeing more information on evaluations on Police.uk, such as the reasons why the public visit the website and the use made of the information. The potential impact on house prices was mentioned.
Gus Jaspert followed by outlining the vision for crime and justice data - the release of data should maximise public choice, provide a challenge to agencies, and promote public use of the data to effect change in their local area.
Allan Brimicombe expressed concerns about the quality and consistency of street-level crime data, in particular that a number of datasets in the public domain do not provide consistent assessments of crime levels and that this may be confusing to the public. The possible need for standards around geo-location information was raised. Gus Jaspert acknowledged that issues remain with data quality but that the Home Office and police forces were alert to the issue and were always seeking to provide the best quality data possible.
The contract for delivery of Police.uk was raised. A request was made that data developers be kept informed of data releases and were more closely involved in future developments. Rebecca Bradfield stated that arrangements are already in place to carry out focus groups with users of Police.uk to get a better understanding of what information they would like to be made available, but acknowledged that closer involvement in the future may add value to delivery.
Action 7: Secretariat to contact Rightmove to see if Police.uk information has affected local house prices.
Action 8: Gus Jaspert to arrange for updates to be provided to data users for future monthly releases of street-level crime data.
6. Crown Court listing data
Simon Denison provided a verbal update. Courtel hold an exclusive license for Crown court, and some county court, listing data which was renewed in May 2010. There has been interest in the license by Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and an alternative provider of the data. It was highlighted that the current exclusive licence was not in line with the transparency agenda. Simon Denison stated that the contract was currently under review and that options were being explored for removal of the exclusivity element.
The Panel acknowledged that the current arrangements were not desirable although also recognised that care needs to be taken as sensitive personal information is included on some court listings, e.g. information relating to defendants under 18 years of age or that may enable victims to be identified.
The issue of the availability of local court results information was also raised at this point. Court registers are made available to the local press subject to strict handling guidelines due to the sensitive personal information involved. However, it was thought by some members that these guidelines were overly strict and should be relaxed in order to provide greater local discretion. Simon Denison said he would raise this with the Information Commissioner’s Office.
The Panel would like to see transcripts of trials being made available to victims and witnesses. More ambitiously they wondered whether a presiding judge in a particular area, or court, might want to champion the transparency cause and open up their area/court in innovative ways to the local community.
Action 9: Josh Dodd to explore this possibility with the Senior Presiding Judge.
Simon Denison stated that the minutes and papers relating to the Panel’s meetings would be published, in line with the practice of the Cabinet Office Transparency Board. The materials will be made available on data.gov.uk.
The next meeting is planned for November 2011.