Government considers criminal court results website for England and Wales

Weeks after the Government announced plans to make magistrates court lists free for all journalists – Press Gazette has learned of a new bid to make the results of all criminal court proceedings available online.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw is looking at plans to provide information of all criminal hearings on one national website which could become a vital source of information for journalists.

Straw told Press Gazette: ‘Making sure justice is done and seen to be done is vital if people are to have confidence in the system.

‘People have a right to know what happens when an offender is sentenced in our courts and a website with this information on would be one way of doing this.”

The MoJ said it would consult widely before putting plans into place but the move is an indication of a desire to make more official information public.

The news comes as the Metropolitan Police today launched its online crime map of London, which visually shows which areas have the most violent crimes.

It is unclear whether the new website would include simply the names and results of defendants or a more detailed report, but the Courts Service said today that ‘the current intention, subject to technological and legal considerations, is to provide outcomes of all cases”.

When Press Gazette asked the Courts Service whether the data could be released as an API (application programming interface), so that third-party web developers and newspapers websites could use the data to create interactive maps and charts, a spokesman said the service would ‘consult widely before a technical solution is adopted”.

Society of Editors director Bob Satchwell said: “It seems that the penny has dropped at last about open justice. In his decision to make court lists free Jack Straw acted decisively and used common sense.

“Open justice is obviously important to the public and the media and the release of information about courts also helps to build public confidence in the system. We are glad they are listening.”

Satchwell did warn that the media should ensure the ministry’s intentions are carried out and the proposals are not halted by misinterpretation of the Data Protection Act or privacy law.

In July Straw, a former lawyer, announced a u-turn on plans to charge newspapers for magistrates court listings and results.

Earlier this year newspaper publishers and the Society of Editors lobbied the government after moves by some Magistrates courts – particularly in Bradford and Scarborough – to charge for daily court listings and outcomes. The Bradford Telegraph & Argus and its sister papers stopped running court lists feature after the fee for the daily lists threatened to reach £40,000 a year at 50p per sheet for 12 courts in West Yorkshire courts.

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