Digitally published Magistrates’ Court Lists: how should it be done?

There is little disagreement with the idea that there should be increased public access to legal proceedings, but how it should be done creates some debate.  As I’ve written before, online publication of court records has developed in a piecemeal fashion in the digital era – part privatized, with few central guidelines.

But an incidental digital (and Google) record around court proceedings is being created nonetheless: when a blogger quotes or reproduces part of a judgment, in newspaper reports, on Twitter and so on.  Information that is available in open court – such as a defendant’s personal details – often (and legitimately) makes its way online.

Would it be better to have a complete record noting the outcome of the case, or leave it to this current state of play, where it’s a matter of chance whether a digital record gets created, often left incomplete? There are numerous complaints to the PCC where a newspaper has only partially reported a case, for example.

There needs to be proper consideration of what type of information should be part of a digital courts record, and how it should be released, as this recent example brought to my attention by Richard Taylor, shows.

He put in a freedom of information request for his local Magistrates’ court lists and was pleased that it resulted in its release in a “reasonably timely manner” (6 days).

But, of rather more concern, Taylor believes the list contained material that would be illegal to publish and so he has redacted the record, and removed it from WhatDoTheyKnow.com.

As a result of his request he has published “example court lists in full for selected upcoming sittings to be held at Cambridge Magistrates Courts, as well as further selected individual listed items in full“, which may be “the first time this has been done“.

In regards to the responsible – and legal – release of information, he says:

If the Courts and the Tribunals Service had a responsibility to remove such information prior to releasing the information is an interesting question. This is information anyone can obtain either by making the same freedom of information request I did, or by turning up to the court and asking for a copy of the court list on the day of the hearing, or indeed by sitting in the court and hearing the charges being read out…

To be continued. I’m hoping that other legal bloggers might add their views on the questions raised by Richard Taylor’s post…

More digital open justice reading:

Update here (11.02.13).

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This entry was posted in access to justice, blogging, courts, criminal law, data, digital open justice, freedom of information and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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