On 10th May 2021, the government were considering plans to create the first single comprehensive repository of England and Wales for court judgments. Such a service would be run by the National Archives. The System would publish almost every decision made by the English and Wales courts and tribunals, unlike the current selective system run by British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII).

The data would also be open to scrutiny and shall be appropriate for bulk research and analysis, including for training artificial intelligence systems to forecast case outcomes. The minutes of the National Archives’ latest board meeting note a decision by the Lord Chancellor to ‘engage with the National Archives in a Partnership project’.

The prospect of statutory comprehensive judgments data was cautiously welcomed by technology experts and researchers. However, it shall undoubtedly face opposition from senior judges, who are understood to be concerned about the loss of control over judgments. The move will require primary legislation and shall most certainly put into doubt the future of BAILII.

Open justice campaigners have long called for reform of the patchwork of processes for distributing judgments, which leave many hearing outcomes, especially routine extempore rulings, unpublished. Just under two years ago, a report commissioned by the Ministry of Justice called for the publication of all judgments in a structured, machine-readable format.

Other prompts for change are the 2017 Supreme Court judgment in Unison, which stressed the public importance of ‘unimpeded access’ to the courts and the fact that BAILII’s contract with the Ministry of Justice, already extended by one year, expires in 2022.

Legal Technology experts have stressed the importance in the government making a decision swiftly about how to proceed with this change. Such a change will take time and therefore, will need to be carefully considered in the weeks, months and possibly, years to come.

Author John Szepietowski

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