New Data First linked dataset ready to provide even more insight into the family court system

The Data First family court - Cafcass linked dataset is supported by a suite of materials to enable accredited researchers – across government and academia – to make the best of use of this data to improve our understanding of the justice system. These resources include a Data First user guide and data catalogue (for the MoJ family court dataset), which describe the nature and the quality of the data shared. The Cafcass data catalogue, provides a basic overview of the data fields available for use (a more detailed data catalogue is being developed).

Data First is a ground-breaking three-year data linking programme, led by the MoJ and funded by ADR UK. The project aims to unlock the potential of the wealth of data held by MoJ, linking administrative datasets from across the justice system and beyond to better inform policy.

This latest output follows the release of the probation and criminal justice system linking dataset, which was made available in the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Secure Research Service in February 2022 for accredited researchers to apply to use.

Lisa Harker, Director, Nuffield Family Justice Observatory said: “The family courts make some of the most important decisions in the lives of children and families, so it is vital that we are able to explore what decisions are being made, about whom, across England and Wales. This linked dataset will enable researchers to shed light on these issues, increasing the transparency of the family justice system; helping those working within the system to see wider patterns and trends, and informing ways to improve the lives of children and their families.”

About the data

The Data First family court - Cafcass linked dataset contains information on public law and private law cases and their legal outcomes in England and Wales, adoption cases, and marriage and divorce characteristics.

The MoJ family court dataset provides data on family court cases in England and Wales between 1 January 2011 and 31 January 2021. This dataset will enable researchers to analyse cases including case type, key dates, related cases and originating court. Researchers will also be able to examine information about events within cases, for example, hearings, orders made by the court and administrative processes. The dataset also includes de-identified information about people involved in court cases such as their characteristics (age, sex and area of residence) and the role in the case.

The dataset has been de-duplicated, which means that multiple instances of the same person appearing before the family court between 1 January 2011 and 31 January 2021 are identified and assigned a unique identifier. This enables researchers to establish if the same user has entered the family court more than once, as well as the frequency, purpose and outcomes of these appearances, while ensuring data remains de-identified.

Cafcass family court data covers cases between 1 April 2007 and 31 January 2022. The dataset includes case-level information, such as whether it is public or private law, the type of application, any recorded legal outputs, and the type of work carried out by Cafcass. It also includes anonymised person-level information for adults and children that are either an applicant, respondent or subject to an application on a case.

The Data First family court - Cafcass linked dataset, in addition to existing and future outputs from Data First, will help researchers better understand end-to-end experiences of justice system users. This can in turn provide further evidence to underpin the development of government policies and drive real progress in addressing social and justice problems.

Dr Emma Gordon, Director ADR UK said: “TThe Data First programme is truly ground-breaking. The collaboration between the Data First team in MoJ, Cafcass and the SAIL Databank to create this newly linked dataset demonstrates the continued focus on opening up secure access to data to improve understanding of people’s experiences of the justice system. In making this available to accredited researchers via the SAIL Databank, we are increasing the potential for impactful research and policy change that could bring real-world benefits to families.

How to access the dataset

Researchers seeking to securely access any of the datasets produced by the Data First programme must first become an accredited researcher by completing the relevant forms from the UK Statistics Authority and submitting them to research.support@ons.gov.uk.

If you are already an accredited researcher, you can apply to access the specific data required for your project from the SAIL Databank.

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