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UK funding to shore up commercial viability of court reporting
Courtsdesk founder former investigative journalist Enda Leahy

30 Jun 2020 / courts Print

UK funding to shore up viability of court reporting

Irish legaltech firm Courtsdesk has been selected for a UK government innovation fund set up to find ways to make public interest journalism more financially sustainable. 

The company’s project, to build for news outlets a national data feed from across the criminal courts of England and Wales, was showcased last week in London.

Court case information

Courtsdesk is a legal technology company focused on improving access to court case information.

The company is run by former Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday journalist and editor Enda Leahy and his co-founder and chief technical officer Alan Larkin. 

Courtsdesk’s work on creating a digital news feed of legal data was one of 20 projects selected out of almost 200 applicants by the £2m Future of News Pilot Fund (FNF), a £2m innovation grant.

Courtsdesk was one of four grant-funded projects selected by the FNF and was granted the highest funding sum of £70,000. 

The fund was set up in response to the Cairncross Review, which examined the crisis in the financial sustainability of high-quality journalism in the UK. 

Threats

In that country, there are now some 6,000 fewer journalists than a decade ago, and print circulation of national and local newspapers has halved.

The review, by Dame Frances Cairncross, examined threats to the media sector, and made recommendations about supporting the production of ‘public interest’ news.

The funding will facilitate the platform build-out, on the basis of open justice and improved media coverage.  

Courtsdesk will supply to news outlets the listings and outcomes of all criminal court cases in the Magistrates’ Court of England and Wales.

This amounts to some 1.5m prosecutions per year. 

Data-sharing licence

Courtsdesk has also agreed a data-sharing licence with HM Courts and Tribunals Service

News outlets are granted access to Magistrates’ Courts proceedings by the distribution of documents from each regional court.

The Courtsdesk pilot will enable local newspapers to access this information as a digital feed.

The Magistrates’ Court is the engine room of the England and Wales criminal justice system, hearing almost 1.5m cases per year.

In 2018, there were 1.469m cases heard, some 93% of all criminal cases in England and Wales that year. 

News industry

The project also got backing from the two largest news industry representative bodies, the Society of Editors and the News Media Association.

Both bodies work to ensure media access to court business and outcomes.

In recent weeks the two largest regional newspaper groups in the UK, Newsquest and Reach PLC, which between them publish over 400 newspapers and websites, and employ over 3,000 journalists, have signed up to trial the platform when it goes live later this year.

BBC talks

Talks on collaboration with other media outlets, including the BBC and UK national newspapers, are also underway. 

Chief executive Enda Leahy said: “Our platform will help news organisations radically improve the amount and the usefulness of information available to them from the courts.

Sustainability

“It will also help improve the commercial sustainability of court reporting, a vital type of journalism which has seen precious little technological innovation for decades.

“It’s more important right now than ever, when Covid has forced the closure of courtrooms and created a backlog of delayed hearings.

“Projects like this help make sure that this critically important part of public information is more easily available and useful for those who have a legitimate interest in accessing it,” he said.

 

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland