Ministry of Justice
102 Petty France
Dear Sam Smith,
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request – 191025003
Thank you for your request dated 25 October 2019 in which you asked for the following
information from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ):
1) A copy of the project brief and project initiation document for the “Data First” / ‘AI
First’ project(s), as agreed for funding by ADR / ESRC / UKRI;
2) A copy of the document, or a public citation to where it is published, that defines
the “department’s key strategic objective”, specifically, if relevant, as relating to
using AI in the family court as expected by the ‘First’ project;
3) Any documents or internal correspondence (including emails, WhatsApp
messages, memos, or (relevant portions of) minutes of meetings) resulting from
medConfidential’s letter to Sir Richard Heaton of the 10th October 2019 (in order to
comply with cost limits, you may restrict searches to the recipients of that letter,
relevant members of the HMCTS Senior Management Team, and staff working on
the project covered in part 1 of this request);
4) In responding to this request, please explicitly confirm whether the response
includes the WhatsApp part of (3) in relation to the “Data First” project If parts of
this request will take longer than the statutory time period to provide, please
provide as much information as you can within the deadline, and follow up with
additional information later
Your request has been handled under the FOIA.
I can confirm that the MoJ holds some of the information that you have requested.
In response for parts (1) and (2), see attached the Strategic Case which was submitted by
MoJ as part of the June 2019 application to the ADR UK Research Commissioning Board.
Further to part (2) of the request, MoJ’s Single Departmental Plan outlines the strategic
objectives for the department. The Data First programme is in line with these objectives. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ministry-of-justice-single-departmental-
The Data First programme is funded by ADR UK and led by the Ministry of Justice. ADR UK
is an investment made by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) which aims to
transform the way researchers can access administrative data already created by
government and public bodies across the UK.
The Data First programme has been developed within the legislative framework established
under the Digital Economy Act (2017) which enables government to provide access to their
administrative data for the purposes of research that meet the accreditation criteria.
All research projects approved and commissioned under the Data First programme will be
compatible with the Research Code of Practice issued under the Digital Economy Act: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/digital-economy-act-2017-part-5-codes-of-
Research or analysis of the administration or performance of the courts, or of individual
users of the system will not be permitted.
Artificial Intelligence data is neither an input, nor an output, of Data First. The programme
also does not involve the collection of any new data.
The Data First programme is not a result of HMCTS’ Data Strategy or any actions HMCTS
may adopt in response to Dr Natalie Byrom’s report on Digital Justice: HMCTS data strategy
and delivering access to justice.
In response to parts (3) and (4) of your request, I can confirm the MoJ holds the information
that you have requested, however the information is exempt from disclosure under section
35(1)(a) of the FOIA, because it relates to the formulation and development of government
Section 35(1)(a) is a qualified exemption which means that the decision to disclose the
requested material is subject to the public interest test. When assessing whether or not it
was in the public interest to disclose the information to you, we took into account the
following factors: Public interest considerations favouring disclosure
Disclosure of the information would be a transparency measure. It would allow the
public access to information on the formulation of government policy with regards to
The Data First Programme and might encourage more public engagement in the
development of such proposals.
Disclosure would promote accountability of the MoJ to the general public.
There is a general public interest in openness, knowing what informs decisions, and
knowing these decisions have been taken fairly. It is arguable that disclosure of the
information may lead to a greater understanding of the decision-making process and
providing this information would be consistent with the Government’s commitment to
fostering an ethos of transparency in public services.
Public interest considerations favouring withholding the information
Disclosure of communications and correspondence (between the Permanent
Secretary, other government departments, and other stakeholders) may undermine
the collective responsibility of the government.
Disclosing this information may also lead to a situation where free and frank
discussions are inhibited in the future. This has the potential to damage the quality
of future advice, and result in poorer decision making, with only options that are
considered popular being discussed, even if they may not be the best option
overall. It is important that civil servants, who are expected to be impartial, are not
easily deterred from expressing their views on a policy under development by the
possibility of future disclosure.
There is a public interest in safeguarding a safe space for policy development within
the government, and to allow for any advice and discussions to be freely given and
received without external pressures and scrutiny.
On balance, I consider the public interest favours withholding the information under section
35(1)(a) of the FOIA at this time. Appeal Rights
If you are not satisfied with this response you have the right to request an internal review by
responding in writing to one of the addresses below within two months of the date of this
Disclosure Team, Ministry of Justice, 10.25, 102 Petty France, London, SW1H 9AJ
You do have the right to ask the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to investigate any
aspect of your complaint. However, please note that the ICO is likely to expect internal
complaints procedures to have been exhausted before beginning their investigation.