Crime and Justice Transparency Sector Panel - Minutes of the meeting held on 4 October 2011 at the Cabinet Office

Present:

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

Jackie Sinclair, NACRO

Phil Golding, Office of the Senior Presiding Judge

Iain Bell, Ministry of Justice

Simon Denison, Ministry of Justice

Rebecca Bradfield, Home Office

Martin Jones, HM Courts and Tribunals Service

Rosemary Wilson, Home Office

Cass Chideock, Cabinet Office

Farah Ahmed, Cabinet Office

Apologies:

Jeff Gardner, Victim Support

Joe Tuke, Victim Commissioner’s Office

Melissa Case, Ministry of Justice

Liam Maxwell, Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead

1. Welcome

 

2. Minutes and update on actions

Simon Denison outlined the minutes clearance and publication timetable to the panel – the intention is to have cleared and published minutes within three weeks of meetings.

Actions from the 3 August meeting were then discussed.

 Action 1: Copy of the Cabinet Office Transparency Board Terms of Reference to be circulated to the Panel.

  • Complete.

Action 2: Will Perrin to highlight the subject of naming offenders on Talk About Local to promote public debate.

  • Not complete. However, Will Perrin has been commissioned to write an article for The Guardian’s data blog that will raise the issue of naming.

Action 3: Emer Coleman to raise the issue of naming of offenders on her blog.

  • Not complete. However, Emer will raise the issue’s profile by linking to Will Perrin’s Guardian article on her blog once it is published.

Action 4: Kieron O’ Hara to send the Panel a link to his interim report on privacy and transparency.

  • Complete.

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.

  • Partially completed (see actions 2 and 3 above). Kieron O’Hara raised this issue at a panel discussion he led at a conference run by the Society for Computer and the Law

Action 7: Secretariat to contact Rightmove to see if Police.uk information has affected local house prices.

  • Complete. No response received from Rightmove. Phil Golding raised the possibility of the Land Registry being a potential source of information as it monitors house price changes.

Action 8: Gus Jaspert to arrange for updates to be provided to data users for future monthly releases of street-level crime data.

  • Complete. Rebecca Bradfield updated the panel on improved communications to users prior to release of monthly street-level data.

Action 9: Josh Dodd to explore the possibility of finding a presiding judge willing to open up a court in their area in innovative ways with the Senior Presiding Judge.

  • Not complete. However, Phil Golding was keen to point out the concerns that would likely be raised by the Judiciary around providing adequate context to sentencing decisions as well as operational pressures. This issue was discussed further at item 8.

3. Membership

At the 3 August meeting Will Perrin had suggested that Neighbourhood Watch be invited in order to give an enhanced community perspective.

Rebecca Bradfield asked for more information on what was wanted from the additional Panel member. Simon Denison then said that alternatives had also been suggested – Heather Brooke, a FOI campaigner, and Francis Davey, a barrister with an interest in opening up court proceedings. It was recognised that although Heather Brooks would be a valuable member of the panel, the legal experience and computer science training of Francis Davey would add more value to the panel. Jonathan Bamford asked whether Kieron O’Hara’s report on privacy and transparency should inform membership of the panel as this recommended a proper range of interests. There was general agreement.

Action 1: Secretariat to contact Francis Davey to establish his interest in joining the panel.

In the context of this discussion the issue of court results information available to communities was raised by Will Perrin. The operational difficulties of Neighbourhood Policing Teams sourcing information was raised (Ailsa Beaton) as well as what data are supplied to the police by the courts (Martin Jones, head of Crown court business).

Will Perrin pointed out that data will likely be developed, if available, into a useful format and gave the example of the They Work For You website. Martin Jones said that Greater Manchester Police and the Metropolitan Police had made effective use of text from the court to police IT link in public communications over the civil disturbances.

Iain Bell (MoJ Chief Statistician) said that the Ministry of Justice was looking at innovative solutions for future data releases, and Emer Coleman stated that City Hall could be used as an engagement forum.

Action 2: Rebecca Bradfield, Iain Bell, Emer Coleman and Will Perrin to meet to discuss local level testing of data releases.

Action 3: Simon Denison to investigate international practice on publicising crime and justice information. To be fed back to Kieron O’Hara for him to consider the development of best practice in making court results data available to local communities (see Action 8).

4. Oral update on the Crime and Justice Transparency Strategic Group

Iain Bell updated the panel on the 29 September meeting of the Strategic Group. The meeting discussed three main issues – impacts on the transparency agenda of the recent civil disturbances, the MoJ Autumn data releases and justice outcome mapping.

In terms of the disturbances the Strategic Group discussed the statistical releases, including the data items published and the resource implications on MoJ statisticians. Media use of the data, in particular by The Guardian, was discussed as well as positive feedback received from internal and external users on the quality and timeliness of the data. The use of Police.uk during the disturbances was also raised.

The Autumn data releases – re-offending, sentencing and court performance – were discussed by the Strategic Group, including media handling, to ensure that the data are understood and used effectively.

The progress of justice outcome mapping was also discussed by the Group. There remain significant technical and presentational challenges, but the project will be proceeding at the pace of the fastest police forces.

5. The impact of the recent civil disturbances on the transparency agenda

Iain Bell introduced this item. There was general agreement that the timely availability of court results information was a positive step that showed what could be done, and that data showing the passage of offenders through the criminal justice system was particularly useful. Iain Bell felt it was a positive step to have reliable data released that gave a definitive view.

Phil Golding felt that having more reporters in court, due to the intense public interest, was a positive step that promoted accurate and balanced reporting of court proceedings. However, he was keen to warn against using the court proceedings resulting from the disturbances as an analogue for future general activity.

Will Perrin was interested in The Guardian’s compilation of court results information, and felt that this had progressed the debate on the transparency of court results, particularly in terms of the release of offenders’ personal details and the implications under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

6. MoJ Autumn data releases

Iain Bell outlined the commitments made to release re-offending, sentencing and court performance data and the associated schedule. He pointed out that the purpose of forthcoming release varied – autumn releases would be definitive datasets for use by researchers, whereas justice outcome maps would be more indicative and accessible, for public use. All individual-level data will be anonymised.

Re-offending data will be released in October at prison and Probation Trust level, which will included individual-level re-offending data and costs per prisoner place. Phil Golding asked how the re-offending data would be presented, and what influence there was of prisoner movements around the secure estate. Iain Bell responded to say that two different measures would be published, that prison-level data would be controlled for the offenders received by each establishment, and that there is little difference resulting from prisoner movements.

Sentencing data will be released in November that will provide individual-level data on adults for each court. The data will be made available on Justice.gov.uk and presented in a way that is accessible to the public, with appropriate contextual information to explain the sentencing process.

Court performance data will be released in January that will provide the public with detailed information about the operation of their local court.

Will Perrin enquired whether the pages on individual courts could be embedded in webpages and expressed the view that the Autumn releases are an encouraging development but that he would like to see named information in the future. He also posed the question of whether the ‘social compact’ between offenders and society should be re-examined, i.e. what privileges a person surrenders when they are convicted. He also stated that there were no specific provisions in the Data Protection Act in terms of offenders. The paper prepared by the ICO for item 8 is of relevance here as it notes that publishing details of criminal convictions amounts to the processing of sensitive personal data under the Data Protection Act and so is subject to significant safeguards.

Iain Bell stated that he planned a phased approach to the release of information by starting cautiously then looking to become more ambitious as data are released. He also said that it would be helpful to ensure that Ministers are adequately sighted on issues around the naming of offenders.

Action 4: Iain Bell and Simon Denison to ensure that Ministers are sighted on the naming of offenders.

7. Progress on justice outcome mapping on Police.uk

Rebecca Bradfield (Home Office Police Transparency Unit) talked through the paper on justice outcome mapping. She was keen to point out that this represents a significant step forward, although there were a number of challenges to the project. The most difficult is that of IT, in particular linking different systems and retrofitting systems for a purpose for which they were not designed, but others include the difficulty of representing the complexity of the CJS in a meaningful way and presenting the data in an accessible format. She also alerted the Panel to developments to Police.uk including a disaggregation of offence categories, and the work of ‘trailblazer’ areas who are developing projects such as ‘Track my Crime’ (Avon and Somerset Police) and ‘In the Dock’ (West Yorkshire Police).

Paul Clarke questioned the openness of the data and whether raw data would be available. Jonathan Bamford pointed out that the Information Commissioner’s Office had not been consulted about the method of making these raw data available in the Hampshire trailblazer project. Emer Coleman was keen to ensure that the trailblazer areas were truly at the forefront of transparency; Rebecca Bradfield suggested a refresh of the transparency principles drafted by Nigel Shadbolt and Liam Maxwell at the inception of the trailblazer projects.

Phil Golding stated that validation and data accuracy testing were key, especially in light of the frequent difference between crimes reported and offence recorded at final outcome. Iain Bell said that statisticians were working to ensure that the data were as accurate as possible.

Will Perrin said he felt that risk management in the public sector too often focused on averting risk, and that this was disproportionately expensive. He said that by releasing data in their entirety to developers a feedback mechanism would be developed that alerted data owners to inaccuracies in their data in a timely and cost-effective way. He used the example of the They Work For You site providing informal feedback to Hansard on inaccuracies, and suggested this could be used as a model for future transparency releases.

Phil Golding asked how successful appeals would be reflected on Police.uk. Iain Bell replied that this was a difficult issue that is still under consideration.

Action 5: Rebecca Bradfield to progress a refresh of the transparency principles and distribute them at the next meeting of the Panel.

8. Local court results availability

Simon Denison introduced this item. The issue of court results information not being available locally had been raised by Will Perrin at the 3 August meeting of the Panel, and subsequent to that meeting further discussions had been conducted at which specific instances of poor practice were highlighted. As a result Martin Jones was invited to the meeting.

Will Perrin raised the issue of a lack of transparency in the results of his local magistrates’ court, Highbury and Islington, saying that it was difficult for court reporters to get hold of information, and even more so for the public. He raised the recent civil disturbances and acknowledged that although they were unprecedented, the court coverage seen in the media was very encouraging. However, he was still keen to have court listings information available to the public, and raised a number of instances of poor practice that had been highlighted to him by a court reporter.

Martin Jones stated that there were a number of instances of innovative local practice, such as the recent ‘tweet-a-thon’ from Staffordshire magistrates’ courts and the justice’s clerk for Staffordshire to public enquiries personally. He pointed out that there was a significant amount of learning from the processing of cases during the disturbances, such as overnight hearings, presentational issues around publicising only ‘successful’ results, and the opportunities for increased public understanding of the courts. In terms of business as usual, however, he was keen to point out the operational constraints imposed on the courts in terms of reducing budgets and headcount, and the need for court staffs’ primary objective to be the efficient and effective administration of the courts rather than servicing requests for information. However, he was happy to meet with Will Perrin to discuss the instances of poor practice and see that HMCTS guidance was adhered to locally.

Phil Golding stated that local court reporting was key to public understanding of the courts and must be maintained. However, he felt that providing adequate context to court results information was important, although gathering this information was an onerous process. He was keen to point out that the operational constraints on both the judiciary and court staff were significant. Although he felt there would be notable difficulties in providing court results to the public with adequate explanatory information he was more optimistic about listings information.

Ailsa Beaton made the point that making court listings information more accessible would significantly increase the transparency of the courts for the public. Iain Bell agreed with this point.

Martin Jones then pointed out that the Xhibit link was available to the public and provided Crown court listings information; he was happy to investigate the possibility of improved advertising of the service. However, he did point out that there were some cases that are especially sensitive, such as sexual or domestic violence offences, that it would not be appropriate to make easily available.

Will Perrin went on to raise the issue of the accessibility of court results information currently, and expressed a view that it would be preferable if all case outcomes were easily accessible to interested parties. He stated that only selected case outcomes are currently widely accessible, i.e. those cases highlighted in the media, and suggested that outcomes could be made available on a website not highlighted by search engines and that those who make nefarious use of the information could be barred. He was keen to point out that the availability of information in the media meant the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act was brought into question. He also alerted the Panel to the initiative at Wigan magistrates’ court that aimed to make court results more accessible to the public.

Jonathan Bamford pointed out the data protection issues of relevance when releasing local court results information, and highlighted to the Panel some of the issues raised in the ICO’s paper. These included highlighting a difference between official bodies releasing data for transparency purposes and its subsequent re-use for commercial and other purposes, that the period information is made available for is relevant in terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and the need to correct information. The paper was supportive of the approach taken in the MoJ guidance on publicising sentencing outcomes.

With reference to action 9 from the 3 August meeting, the possibility of finding a presiding judge willing to open up a court in their area in innovative ways was raised by Paul Clarke, and the possibility of using Wigan magistrates’ court as an analogue was raised. Paul Clarke was keen to see a specification drafted on what this might look like, to be considered by The Senior Presiding Judge’s office. Phil Golding questioned what exactly would be in scope and asked that any document drafted made this explicit.

Emer Coleman asked whether there was a list of judges available that were keen on the use of social media, and was advised by Martin Jones that the Staffordshire example would be the best place to start.

Will Perrin felt that there was a duty on ministers and officials to promote transparency through judicial media if they were committed to the principle, and that there could be value in raising the profile of modern communication media with the judiciary.

Action 6: Meeting to be arranged between Martin Jones and Will Perrin to discuss specific instances of poor practice regarding the release of court results information to local media.

Action 7: Simon Denison to investigate international best practice on publishing court results information, to be passed to Kieron O’Hara.

Action 8: Kieron O’Hara to co-ordinate the development of a specification for an open court for consideration by the Senior Presiding Judge.

Action 9: Simon Denison to forward Staffordshire evaluation report to Emer Coleman and further contact to arranged, if needed, through Martin Jones.

9. Any Other Business

Cass Chideock alerted the Panel to the Cabinet Office Open Data Consultation.

Jonathan Bamford alerted the Panel to the ICO’s draft guidance on crime mapping and invited attendees to pass comments directly to his colleagues at ICO.

Emer Coleman advised the Panel that the information publication regulations for Police and Crime Commissioners had now been released, but was unsure where to source them.

Ailsa Beaton alerted the Panel to a survey carried out by Directline on changes in crime reporting levels resulting from street-level crime maps on Police.uk. The survey indicated that publication of the data had resulted in a reduced propensity to report crime in case house prices would then be revised downward. Iain Bell expressed concerns over research design.

Action 10: Rebecca Bradfield to provide an update on the Police and Crime Commissioners’ information publication regulations to Panel members.

Action 11: Iain Bell to examine research design of the Directline survey and report back at the next meeting.