Court and Tribunal Judgements now available via National Archives

The Ministry of Justice today announced that court and tribunal judgments will be available via the National Archives for the first time. The new site will be unveiled next April when the current Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) contract expires.

The MOJ has revealed that court judgments for England and Wales will be available via a free, central online repository managed by the National Archives, and is set to replace the current BAILII system from April 2022.

The new website is expected to reflect that of legislation.gov.uk, also managed by National Archives, and will consolidate judgments in one place, instead of the disparate system of sources currently in use. This “one stop shop” approach, it is hoped, will save time and money for all users including lawyers, judges, academics, journalists, students and members of the public.

Announcing the new partnership, the lord chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, said:

“ensuring court judgments are easily accessible is central to the rule of law and the principle of open justice.”

In the first instance JR decisions, European case law, commercial judgments and other cases of legal significance from the High Court, Upper Tier Tribunal, and the Court of Appeal will be migrated across from BAILII.

A significant development facilitated by the new arrangement is that judgments will now be converted to legal document markup language which makes judgments accessible to machine reading technology and other automated systems. Although the process will be managed by National Archives, details of any licensing arrangements as to the tagging and conversion of archive content have yet to be announced, but will be subject to the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015, which prohibit exclusive deals, requiring public bodies to permit re-use of data.

The news of the switch to National Archives has been welcomed across the industry. The Law Society stated: “the law can often be seen as complicated and inaccessible for the public, but this move should be able to provide some clarity for the public around the justice system and the rule of law, and why it matters to them and their lives.”

Dr Natalie Byrom, the Legal Education Foundation’s director of research, said:

“This is a critical step towards achieving a more transparent, open and equitable justice system, that supports access to justice and data-driven reform.”

BAILII has responded by welcoming the decision, but also stated that it will “remain the most comprehensive single source of free legal information not just for England & Wales but also for Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and other important common law jurisdictions.”

A Law Society spokesperson said:

“We are pleased to hear that court and tribunal judgments will be available via the National Archives. These important documents will be available to judges, lawyers, academics, journalists and students for case preparation or for research.

“With transparency being an indispensable principle of justice, the Law Society has long advocated for open justice and the need for the public to have confidence in what is happening in the courts, particularly given the state the justice system is in with the thousands of backlogs in the Crown and Magistrates’ Courts.

“The law can often be seen as complicated and inaccessible for the public, but this move should be able to provide some clarity for the public around the justice system and the rule of law, and why it matters to them and their lives.”

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