Data mapping project: Smarter data

The use and utility of administrative data in Victorian Courts and Tribunals

Publication date

December 1, 2021


Hugh M. McDonald
Acting Research Director
Victoria Law Foundation
Victoria Law Foundation
Clare Kennedy
Research Communications
Tenielle Hagland
Research Coordinator
Victoria Law Foundation
Victoria Law Foundation
Lynne Haultain
Executive Director
Victoria Law Foundation
Victoria Law Foundation



Semi-structured interviews were conducted with staff from five Victorian courts and tribunals about the data they collect and use for civil matters. We also reviewed documentation supplied by participants and publicly available documents, such as annual reports and strategic plans. Australian and international literature was also reviewed to identify access to civil justice questions; the role of administrative data in monitoring and answering those questions; and to canvas developments in court and tribunal administrative data practices.

Mapping justice

The Data Mapping Project mapped use and utility of administrative data across a broad range of civil justice bodies, including courts and tribunals, legal assistance organisations and dispute resolution bodies.

This work identified opportunities and challenges in using existing data to improve access to justice through the operations of large players in the sector, and set out some possible new directions.

Key findings

Use of data and overcoming limitations

Data was used for a variety of purposes by courts and tribunals including operational (reporting, planning, and performance measurement), monitoring, evaluation and research, development of business cases, forecasting and demand modelling. However, data utility was limited by the range of data points routinely collected and available for analysis. There was widespread interest in collection of additional data points – such as litigant demographics and factors showing matter complexity – to improve understanding of court and tribunal operations and performance as well as litigant experiences.

Strong data practices for quality and consistency

Well-established data practices were essential for data quality, integrity, and consistency. There was evidence of sound data practices, vetting and staff accountability in key areas leading to confidence in data quality.

Data improvement journey

Courts and tribunals were found to be at different stages of data improvement. There was strong evidence that over the last 15 years, Victorian court and tribunal data use and utility has improved substantially. This has been aided by adoption of new and improved administrative data systems, performance measures and the International Framework of Court Excellence, allowing greater functionality, flexibility, potential for linkage and data use and utility.

Variation in data collection

Data collection systems and practices varied across Victorian courts and tribunals. There were substantial gaps in what was known about parties to civil matters, and their experience in courts and tribunals. This was evident in categories such as legal matter type, legal matter outcomes, representation status, and importantly, the demographic and personal information recorded about parties. These gaps limit the utility of court and tribunal data.

Implications and way forward

Limits of current data and opportunities to go further

While Victorian courts and tribunals have been working to improve data quality, use and utility, they are rapidly approaching the limits of current data. Progress will require a step change in type and scope of data points collected and the extent to which data can be linked with other datasets, within and beyond the justice system.

Smarter data for enhanced insight

Better data and analysis can provide significant operational insights, improving court and tribunal function, and ultimately enhancing access to justice. Core to this are data and data systems that provide a better understanding of the demographics of users and the issues they face. To answer critical access to justice questions you need to be able to see people and their problems.

People-centred data

The civil justice system works best when it mirrors the needs and capabilities of the public. This leads to efficient operation and enhanced access to justice. Central to this is understanding the diverse cohorts using courts and tribunals, which is only possible with smarter data. However, to fully appreciate the complexity of people’s lives means additional data, data linkage and understanding that administrative data provides only one piece of the puzzle.

How smarter data helps

Improving data quality and scope enhances utility – it allows more questions to be answered. The answers to these questions can reveal factors affecting operation and performance; enable appropriate response to diverse needs; identify downstream effects of change; monitor and evaluate reform; and determine what works.

Need for strategic leadership and investment

Shared understanding of the purpose, benefits and insights of improved data can usher in a new era of civil justice. Strategic leadership and investment are necessary to foster these goals and maximise the insights offered by improved administrative data.

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Understand better justice

Data and empirical evidence to help understand access to justice and build a better justice system.