Data First: Harnessing the potential of linked administrative data for the justice system

By working in partnership with independent and expert academics to facilitate and promote research in the justice space, we will create a sustainable body of knowledge on justice system users and their interactions with government and across the family, civil and criminal courts, to provide evidence to underpin the development of government policies and drive real progress in tackling social and justice problems. 

The data

Data First will enhance the potential of data linking, both internally within MoJ, as well as externally with other government departments. Internal data linking work will link civil, family and criminal justice administrative datasets held by MoJ, including datasets from its executive agencies such as Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS). External data linking will seek to bring justice data together with data held by other large government departments, such as the Department for Education. 

What is the potential of this newly linked data?

By linking the civil, family and criminal justice administrative datasets, we can build a picture of the characteristics of justice system users and how they interact over time with the civil, family and criminal courts. Understanding these characteristics, patterns of frequent use, and common transitions between different services, will develop our understanding of ‘what works’ and inform the development of MoJ policies and services. 

This insight could enable people to access support swiftly and effectively to resolve civil justice problems such as homelessness or debt; avoid the escalation of civil justice problems into the criminal courts; reduce the extent of repeat users of the justice system; and improve people’s overall experience of the justice system. 

Linking MoJ data with that of other departments will develop our understanding of how justice system users interact with other government services. This will enable further insight into the needs, pathways and outcomes of our users, such as the distribution of educational backgrounds among different groups within the justice system. 

Key questions these newly linked datasets could help to address include:

  • Are there any links between the population of people who use the civil courts and those who enter the criminal justice system? 

  • Who are the ‘repeat users’ of the civil justice system – those who return multiple times to the civil justice courts to resolve issues such as housing, debt or employment? 

  • What are the links between educational outcomes and offending? 

  • What proportion of people facing criminal charges of domestic abuse are also involved, at the same time, in a family court case to make contact arrangements for their children? 

Anonymised, research-ready datasets produced as part of the Data First project are now available to external researchers via the ONS Secure Research Service and later this year via the SAIL Databank. Researchers will need to be approved and submit a successful application to access the data. The data catalogue and user guide can be found on

Engaging justice system users

ADR UK and MoJ are committed to ensuring the way in which justice system data is used as part of the Data First project takes into account the views and interests of the public and of justice system users specifically. To this end, a User Representation Panel has been established, made up of representatives from organisations that work directly with or on behalf of people with experience of the criminal, civil and family justice systems. This Panel will work with the Data First team to represent their service users, and to help shape the project in a way that delivers the greatest possible benefits and impact.

Organisations represented on the panel include Cafcass, the Civil Court Users Association, Family Justice Young People’s Board, Prison Reform Trust, Revolving Doors, Unlock and User Voice.

In addition to the main Panel, three sub-groups are being established with specific expertise in criminal, civil and family justice. Full details of the Panel and sub-groups can be found in the Terms of Reference.

Project details

  • Project lead: Adrian Richards, MoJ 

  • Funded value: £2,890,710 

  • Duration: September 2019 – June 2022 

This project is funded via the ADR UK Strategic Hub Fund, a dedicated fund for commissioning research using newly linked administrative data, in consultation with the former Research Commissioning Board (RCB).

An Academic Lead has also been appointed to advise the Data First team and engage with relevant experts:

Details of the funding grant awarded to Nottingham Trent University can also be found on the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Gateway to Research platform.

The Academic Lead is supported by an Academic Advisory Group (terms of reference available here), and External Champion and Advisor Professor Betsy Stanko. To facilitate the views of justice system users, Data First has a bespoke User Representation Panel which comprises representatives from criminal, civil and family justice organisations that work with, and on behalf of, system users (such as defendants, prisoners, claimants in civil disputes, or parties to family law cases) to reflect the range of users included within the project scope.

Categories: Data linkage programmes, ADR England, Office for National Statistics, Crime & Justice

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