Courtsdesk receives £70,000 to build legal database for UK journalists

30 Jun 2020

Enda Leahy. Image: Courtsdesk

Dublin-based Courtsdesk has received £70,000 in funding to build a service supplying listings and outcomes of criminal court cases to journalists in the UK.

Irish legaltech firm Courtsdesk has been awarded £70,000 in a UK government-backed innovation fund set up to find ways to make public interest journalism more financially sustainable.

The Dublin-based start-up, which is led by former journalist Enda Leahy and co-founder Alan Larkin, was selected from almost 200 applicants for the £2m Future of News Fund (FNF).

The innovation grant 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.

In a review conducted by Frances Cairncross, the threats to the media sector were examined and recommendations were made to improve the operation of the news market and support the production of public interest news.

Following this, the UK Department of Digital Media, Culture and Sport allocated £2m to be administered by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta), which created the FNF to find innovation projects to support.

Courtsdesk’s work with FNF

Courtsdesk was one of the grant-funded projects picked by the fund, and was one of four that were chosen to receive the highest grant funding available.

The funding will be used to validate Courtsdesk’s proposal to build a service that would supply listings and outcomes of all criminal court cases in the magistrates’ court of England and Wales to news outlets.

Courtsdesk has reached a data-sharing agreement with the UK’s courts and tribunals service to facilitate a pilot of the service. The start-up said that this agreement will facilitate the construction of a platform in the interests of open justice and improving media coverage.

The project has also gained the support of two of the largest news industry representative bodies in the UK, the Society of Editors and the News Media Association.

Courtsdesk has begun trials with Newsquest and Reach PLC, which collectively publish more than 400 newspapers and websites and employ more than 3,000 journalists. The start-up said that talks on collaboration with other media outlets, including the BBC and UK national newspapers, are also underway.

Toby Granville, editorial development director at Newsquest, said: “I know our court reporters were enthused after discussing the potential service with the Courtsdesk team. I think it would be useful across the whole organisation and all of our newspapers and websites could potentially be using the service once it’s live.”

Improving commercial sustainability

Leahy, who is CEO of Courtsdesk, commented: “This is a really exciting project and is really the first of its kind for the media and the courts, and it’s worth noting the really broad support it has received from all representatives of the news industry, HM Courts and Tribunals Service, and from Nesta on behalf of the government.

“Our platform will help news organisations radically improve the amount and the usefulness of information available to them from the courts. 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.”

Leahy said that this is more important than ever before as Covid-19 has forced courtrooms to close, resulting in a backlog of delayed hearings. He described the project as “exactly” the same work Courtsdesk has been doing in Ireland.

“We help source and supply data and technology services to a variety of sectors, from the international news media to law firms and to other business sectors, be it for legal research, corporate due diligence, or, as in this case, to assist the media with reporting on the business of the courts,” Leahy said.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic