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Public Policy Technology and Law Commission – Algorithms in the Justice System

Posted: 15 June 2018

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The Law Society of England and Wales has a strong interest in the impact of technology and data use on human rights. To help us understand this very broad issue, we will be examining one specific aspect: the use of algorithms in the justice system.

About the Commission

The Law Society’s Public Policy Technology and Law Commission will examine the use of algorithms in the justice system in England and Wales and what controls, if any, are needed to protect human rights and trust in the justice system.

Law Society Vice President Christina Blacklaws is the chair/main commissioner. Her co-commissioners are Sofia Olhede and Sylvie Delacroix.

The commissioners will be taking evidence from a range of experts (tech, government, commercial and human rights) on whether algorithms and their use within the justice system should be regulated, and if so, how.

Terms of reference

The Commission will maintain an England and Wales focus, but take appropriate account of international developments.

It will engage openly with interested parties, providing opportunities to submit evidence and proposals and to set out views relevant to its work, including academics, tech specialists, government, civil liberty organisations and solicitors, in order to build consensus in support of its approach and recommendations.

In parallel, the Law Society’s Policy team will be conducting a series of one-to-one interviews with key stakeholders to gather qualitative data that will inform the final report.

The Commission is expected to report in early 2019 on:

  • its assessment of the evidence on the nature and scale of the use of algorithms in the justice system in England and Wales
  • its recommendation(s) for immediate actions to safeguard human rights and maintain public trust in the justice system.

The assessments and recommendations in the Commission’s report will be underpinned by a detailed review of the evidence on the current use of algorithms in England and Wales, forecasts for how these are likely to develop, and how they should be regulated.

Meet the commissioners

Christina Blacklaws

Christina BlacklawsChristina studied Jurisprudence at Oxford and qualified as a solicitor in 1991. She has developed and managed law firms, including a virtual law firm. In 2011 she set up the Co-operative Legal Services family law offering, later becoming their director of policy; and more recently she was the director of innovation at top 100 firm Cripps LLP.

Christina holds a range of public appointments, including as a member of the Family Justice Council, trustee of LawWorks and council member for the Women Lawyers Division.

Christina is vice president of the Law Society of England and Wales and will become president in July 2018.

She is an award winning published author, speaker and lecturer and frequent media commentator.

Sofia Olhede

Sofia OlhedeSofia is a professor of Statistics at University College London (UCL) since October 2007. She is director of UCL’s Centre for Data Science, an honorary professor of Computer Science and a senior research associate of Mathematics at UCL.

She has held three research fellowships while at UCL: UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Springboard fellowship as well as a five-year Leadership fellowship, and she now holds a European Research Council Consolidator fellowship. Before joining UCL Sofia was a senior lecturer of statistics (associate professor) at Imperial College London.

Sofia has contributed to the study of stochastic processes; time series, random fields and networks. She is a member of the ICMS Programme Committee, the London Mathematical Society Research Meetings Committee and the London Mathematical Society Research Policy Committee. She is an associate editor for Transactions in Mathematics and its Applications. Sofia was also a member of the Royal Society and British Academy Data Governance Working Group, and the Royal Society working group on machine learning.

Sylvie Delacroix

Sylvie DelacroixSylvie Delacroix is professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Birmingham. Her work focuses on the intersection between law and ethics, with a particular interest in machine ethics and agency. Her current research focuses on the design of both decision-support and ‘autonomous’ systems meant for morally loaded contexts. She also researches the effect of personalised profiling and ambient computing on ethical agency.

Professor Delacroix’s work has notably been funded by the Wellcome Trust, the NHS and the Leverhulme Trust, from whom she received the Leverhulme Prize in 2010.

Launch event: 14 June 2018

The Law Society held the launch event for the Public Policy Technology and Law Commission on 14 June 2018.

The speakers were Christina Blacklaws, Sylvie Delacroix and Sofia Olhede. Law Society president Christina Blacklaws detailed her vision for this commission. Her co-commissioners Sofia Olhede and Sylvie Delacroix spoke about their research, expertise and work in this area, and some of the complex issues raised by the use of algorithms in the justice system.

The launch event was a great opportunity to engage with some of the complex issues raised by the use of algorithms in the justice system, as well as meet other professionals working on those issues.

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