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

Status: Active

The most vulnerable people in our society have complex and multiple needs. They are likely to interact with a range of public services, from health and social care to housing and welfare through to the justice system. While the government collects a large amount of data as the public interacts with these services, it is vastly underused. Understanding these populations, their needs, and how they interact with public services over time is vital if we are to improve outcomes. Robust data is central to this, and the MoJ has committed to using it more effectively to enhance the evidence for policy and practice.

Data First works in partnership with independent and expert academics to promote and facilitate research in the justice space. This will create a sustainable body of knowledge on justice system users and their interactions across the system, including the family, civil and criminal courts and a range of other government services. Resulting evidence will be used to underpin the development of government policies and drive real progress in tackling social and justice problems. 

The data

Data already shared under Data First has linked civil, family and criminal justice administrative datasets held by MoJ, including datasets from its executive agencies such as HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS). Data has been linked externally too bringing justice data together with data held by the Department for Education (DfE). 

In this next phase of funding, Data First will link and share new datasets from across the justice system and from other government departments. We will refresh and improve existing datasets as well as linking new datasets to those already available.  

As one example, we will de-duplicate and link a de-identified dataset based on the Offender Assessment System (OASys) administrative database. This will enrich our understanding of offenders’ needs and risks, and how these may impact upon their outcomes.  

Four new data shares will link justice data to that of other government departments, to develop the evidence on the drivers and outcomes for justice system users across other public services.

Potential of the 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 justice services. 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 government 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 interactions with the justice system
  • and improve people’s overall experience of the 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. 

These newly linked datasets are helping to explore critical evidence priorities, as set out in the MoJ Areas of Research Interest (2020). Key questions may include:

  • What are the links between the people who use the civil and family courts and those who interact with the criminal justice system? 
  • What are the links between educational outcomes and offending? How are these outcomes impacted by demographic factors?
  • What are the risks and needs of different offender groups? How do these change over time and affect their likelihood of reoffending?
  • What factors affect the likelihood of different groups receiving different sentences?
  • Who are the ‘repeat’ users across the justice system? How often do they return, and how do their outcomes change?


De-identified, research-ready datasets produced to date as part of Data First are available to external researchers via the ONS Secure Research Service and the SAIL Databank. Researchers will need to be accredited and submit an application for approval to access the data. Detailed MoJ data catalogues and a user guide can be found on

To enable the large-scale data-linkage for Data First, MoJ has developed open-source, free software called Splink. Find out more on the Splink website.

Engaging justice system users

ADR UK and MoJ are committed to public transparency and accountability for the way justice system data is used for research under Data First. We have established a User Representation Panel comprising representatives from organisations that work directly with or on behalf of people with experience of the criminal, civil and family justice systems. The panel works alongside the Data First team to make sure the needs and interests of justice system users are reflected throughout the programme to deliver maximum benefits. The panel has already met in January 2022 to discuss the potential of the probation & criminal justice system linking dataset.

Organisations represented on the panel include Cafcass and  Cafcass Family Justice Young People’s Board, Clinks, Khulisa, Prison Advice and Care Trust, Prison Reform Trust, Revolving Doors, Sentencing Academy and Unlock. Full details of the Panel can be found in the Terms of Reference.

Current grant details

Project lead: Amy Summerfield

Funded value: £2,353,706

Duration: 1 July 2022 – 30 September 2025

The Academic Lead, appointed to advise the Data First team and ensure the programme meets academic needs, is continuing their role for the next phase:

  • Academic Lead: Professor Andromachi Tseloni, Nottingham Trent University
  • Funded value: £152,397.77
  • Duration: 10 April 2023 – 30 June 2024

This project is funded via the ADR UK research-ready data and access fund, a dedicated fund for commissioning research using newly linked administrative data. The funding decision was based on advice from an independent expert panel, and in consultation with the Office for National Statistics. This project is part of the ADR England portfolio.

Details of the funding grant awarded by ADR UK to MoJ for this project can also be found on the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Gateway to Research platform. Read the funding announcement on our website.

Previous grant details

Project lead: Adrian Richards, MoJ 

Funded value: £2,890,710 

Duration: September 2019 – June 2022 

Grant achievements

  • Shared eight justice datasets available to accredited researchers via the ONS Secure Research Service and SAIL Databank to enable new and innovative cross-government and academic research for policy insights. This includes data to link cases and people across the criminal and family courts, prison and probation services:
    • Magistrates’ Court Defendant - England and Wales
    • Crown Court Defendant - England and Wales
    • Prisoner Custodial Journey - England and Wales
    • Probation - England and Wales
    • Family Court - England and Wales
    • Criminal Courts, Prisons and Probation- England and Wales
    • Civil justice courts
  • Accelerated data-sharing with other government departments, including a data-share with the Department for Education available via the ONS Secure Research Service, enabling new research on the educational outcomes of offenders.  
  • Facilitated and delivered new impactful research for policy insights, via government publications, ADR-UK funded Research Fellowships and academic research to address MoJ’s evidence needs as set out in the MoJ Areas of Research Interest (ARI, 2020).
  • Embedded academic expertise to maximise the policy impact of the datasets, via a seconded Academic Lead Professor Andromachi Tseloni, expert Academic Advisory Group and comprehensive programme of external engagement. 
  • Published a suite of supporting materials to demonstrate commitment to transparency and researcher access, including high-quality data documentation, such as detailed data catalogues, a user guide, application form and a published tracker with all research facilitated via Data First.  
  • Released award-winning data-linking software, Splink, to transform the methodological capabilities across government and academia. 
  • Established a User Representation Panel, comprising representatives of the justice system, to maintain public credibility and acceptability of data sharing. 

This project was 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 was 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 was 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, Research using linked data, ADR England, Children & young people, Crime & justice, Health & wellbeing, Housing & communities, Inequality & social inclusion, World of work

Share this: