Digital courts: ‘You Be the Judge’ online feature cost £56k; plans for reporting restrictions database shelved

A Criminal Justice System website that presents video scenarios based on real court cases cost £56,403.60 (excl. VAT) to build, while plans for a central media database of reporting restrictions have been abandoned, Freedom of Information requests have shown.

The cost of the You Be the Judge site launched in 2010 covers the cost of “producing four separate interactive scenarios in order to demystify sentencing and better explain a complex and technical subject to members of the public,” the Ministry of Justice said.

“For each scenario this involved casting, scripting, filming, photography and preparation of material for online delivery.

“Scriptwriting, filming and editing were outsourced to Speakeasy, a specialist video production company, following a competitive tender process. The contract was for this project only and has now been closed.”

Design, coding and technical build of the interactive guide was carried out by “internal web resources who were simultaneously working on other activities”.

In August, when new cases were added to the site, DirectGov reported the site had received over 10,000 visits.

The Freedom of Information request was made as part of my investigation into the openness of English & Welsh courts.

The Freedom of Information enquiry also asked about plans for a media database of reporting restrictions. The Ministry of Justice confirmed that Her Majesty’s Court Service (HMCS) had been in discussions with media representatives co-ordinated by the Society of Editors but said that plans had now been stopped.

“[T]here are currently no plans to develop such a database as we have been unable to satisfactorily resolve a number of key issues,” the MoJ said.

Issues included:

Finding the right level of information that will support journalists needs but not
make the information protected by the reporting restriction public;

• Managing the risk to individual/s protected by the reporting restrictions if the data were available in the public domain;

• How to control access to those with a right and need to access it;

• The level of security that would have to be placed onto the IT infrastructure that would be used to host the sensitive information;

• How it would be paid for.

No cost estimate could be supplied because a specification could not be agreed. In the meantime, the Ministry of Justice said, existing processes for media wishing to check whether a reporting restriction applies in a particular case remain in place.

“Firstly, the reporter can always contact/visit the court where the case is being/was heard and the court will provide any copies of reporting restrictions. If they are uncertain that the person is a journalist they would ask for press card or email showing a press email address.”

As reported on Meeja Law in September, the position for bloggers is unclear.

New crime stats will be released from October 2010

In response to a question about plans to publish more data online, the MoJ said that from October 2010 it would be publishing court level sentencing outcomes as part of the annual National Statistics publication ‘Criminal Statistics England and Wales’.

“Information will be displayed at individual petty sessional area, providing aggregated offence level data. This will be able to be viewed on the Ministry of Justice web site.

It also specified that case specific information is available at:

But the MoJ did not answer the question of whether it had considered making additional court case details (as suggested by Hugh Tomlinson QC in an interview with Meeja Law) available online: including date of grant or discharge of any interim injunction, statements of case, skeleton arguments for hearings, any publication restrictions, date of next hearing.

The Ministry of Justice said that two Freedom of Information requests in full would take 173 hours to process and were therefore refused but supplied the information cited above. Another request asking for past information released under the FoI Act by the MoJ was also refused, with no additional details given.

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7 Responses to Digital courts: ‘You Be the Judge’ online feature cost £56k; plans for reporting restrictions database shelved

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