A quick update to my recent post on digital publication of Magistrates’ court lists. I reported how blogger Richard Taylor obtained a “full” court list from his local Magistrates’ Court following a Freedom of Information request. However, he did not publish it in full online because he was concerned that it contained material that might be illegal to publish.
He has since received an update from the courts service / MoJ, which has confirmed that the full list was released in error. Significantly, it said:
We believe the majority of the information in the Court Lists is exempt from disclosure under Section 32 (Court Records) and Section 40 (Personal Information) of the Freedom of Information Act. We also believe provision and publication of sensitive personal data may also breach The Data Protection Act. There are also issues around ensuring the appropriate retention and disposal of information. Finally there may be some information whose release is prohibited by statute or where a judge or magistrate will have imposed a reporting restriction.
Jonathan Baines has blogged about the situation and the wider context here, concluding:
While distinction should be drawn between a “full” list, such as was inadvertently disclosed to Richard, and “noticeboard” lists, habitually stuck up outside the court room, the points raised by this incident exemplify some crucial considerations for the development of the justice system in a digital era. It seems clear that, even if a court were permitted to this or similar information, the re-publication by others would infringe one or all of the SO(A)A, DPA and MCA. What this means for the advancement of open justice, the protection of privacy rights and indeed the rehabilitation of offenders is something I hope to try to grapple with in a future post (or posts).
On Twitter, William Perrin, a member of the Government’s Crime and Justice Transparency Sector Panel, points out that the “issue has to be taken in the round, rather than in isolation on DPA alone“. He lists some of the competing interests here.
The other big question that arises is who should be able to access full lists, if at all? A commenter on Taylor’s blog believes:
“There shouldn’t be a separate class of disclosure for special friends in the media – either the information is publicly available – in which case it should be fully published online to everyone, or it shouldn’t be available at all…”
Thoughts/suggestions/links welcome. The discussion continues.