Publication of listed judgments: towards a new benchmark of digital open justice
The National Archives launched its Find Case Law database in mid-April 2022, under a new judgment publication system mandated by the Ministry of Justice. ICLR has been systematically monitoring the publication of listed cases under this new system from the beginning of May. This initial report is based on its performance from May until the… Continue reading
The National Archives launched its Find Case Law database in mid-April 2022, under a new judgment publication system mandated by the Ministry of Justice. ICLR has been systematically monitoring the publication of listed cases under this new system from the beginning of May. This initial report is based on its performance from May until the end of July 2022.
The report combines statistics for the efficiency and coverage of cases listed for judgment in the Daily Cause List with other publication data, and monitors the relationship between the listing and publication of judgments as part of the overall judgments data ecosystem and its importance to Open Justice.
In its first three full months of operation, the new Find Case Law database operated by The National Archives struggled to meet its aim of publishing all handed down judgments from the senior courts of England and Wales on the day of delivery. But that was mainly because they were not all being sent from the courts.
The rate at which judgments listed in the Daily Cause List were published varied from court to court, but on average about 62% were published on the day of judgment, with that figure increasing to just over 74% when including those published late. However, that still left over a quarter of the listed cases not being published at all.
The National Archives launched its database in mid-April 2022, under a new judgment publication system mandated by the Ministry of Justice. ICLR has been systematically monitoring the publication of listed cases under this new system from the beginning of May. This report is based on its performance from May until the end of the Trinity law term in July.
Over that period, the appeal courts were the most efficient at getting substantial numbers of listed judgment published – with the Court of Appeal, Civil Division, sending more than 95% each month, and the Criminal Division 88%. Next most efficient were various sub-divisions of the Queen’s Bench Division, such as the Technology and Construction Court with 84%, and the London Administrative Court with 82%.
Some courts managed even higher rates simply by virtue of having very few cases: of the eight cases listed for judgment in the Patents Court over the three months, 100% were published, along with another 10 unlisted cases. Prompt publication of a single case listed in the Admiralty Court also achieved the 100% score.
The least productive was the Property, Trusts and Probate list, with an average rate of around 46%, and cases in the Family Division and Court of Protection with around 55% of listed cases being published. While there might be good reasons for non-publication of cases involving confidential matters affecting children and vulnerable parties, particularly since most of them would have been heard in private, the lack of publication in other courts raises questions about transparency and open justice.
Some of the listed courts published no judgments at all. Nothing was published from the Central London County Court, for example, yet the fact that its judgments are listed in the Daily Cause List suggests they must be substantial enough to reserve and deliver in writing. While technically there may not be any legal precedents to report, there is still a transparency gap there waiting to be filled.
Most courts appear to have published more in July than previously. While there were delays in publishing around 17% of the listed cases, it is of far more concern that so many judgments were not published at all.
A large number of the published cases were unlisted – i.e. they had not been listed for judgment in the Daily Cause List. That might be because the court was not one of those listed there, or that the judgment in a listed case was given at the hearing and not reserved. But that raises a question about the fate of those judgments that are neither listed nor published. It is much harder to follow up what happened in such a case. We currently have no way of determining how many such missing judgments there might be.
Overall, there might be a number of reasons why judgments did not appear as quickly as intended, or failed to appear at all. Ultimately, The National Archives are only part of the overall system, and a lot also depends on the courts and the judiciary. Wherever they arise, however, these issues need to be resolved if the system is to achieve its potential of a truly comprehensive and efficient system of open public data.
The report has been written by Paul Magrath, Head of Product Development and Online Content, and Greg Beresford, Case Data Analyst, at ICLR.
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