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Technology and the Law Policy Commission - Algorithms in the Justice System

Last updated: 11 September 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.

Evidence sessions

The Law Society will be holding three public sessions where our commissioners will take oral evidence from experts on the topic of algorithms in the justice system.

Session 2 will be held on 12 November 2018 from 1-4pm at the Law Society's Hall, 113 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1PL.

The Commission aims to use this session to gain insights into the current state of play regarding the making, sale and use of algorithms in the justice system in England and Wales. It will try to anticipate future development to understand what is on the horizon.

This session concerns general questions about algorithms in the justice system. Interested parties will be asked:

  • What algorithms that you know of are currently in use in the justice system in England and Wales?
  • Are there any algorithms that you know of that are currently being developed for use in the justice system in England and Wales?
  • What are some of the benefits that can be derived from the use of algorithms in the justice system?
  • What are some of the dangers?
  • How does bias in decision-making cut across existing legislation?
  • Are there any algorithms currently in development for use in the justice system?
  • How do they differ from algorithms currently being used?
  • How will their effectiveness and adherence to ethical principles be guaranteed?

Register your interest here

Call for Evidence

The Law Society is calling for written evidence from all interested parties on the topic of algorithms in the justice system. We are looking to hear from practitioners, academics, tech professionals, civil liberties organisations, companies that make algorithms, public bodies that use them, and anyone who has an interest in technology, the rule of law and human rights.

If you are interested in giving evidence, please submit the form below:

Session 3 will be held on 14 February 2019 from 3-6pm at the Law Society's Hall, 113 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1PL. This session will focus on what controls, if any, are needed to protect human rights and trust in the justice system.

In this session, we need people to give evidence from the legal and social aspects of rights of individuals. We also need technically informed experts who can tell us how these things work and what is possible. We should also look to draw out any broader human rights principles.

This session will ask interested parties about the ethics of algorithms in the justice system:

  • Can we create an algorithm that is 'ethical-by-design'? What does this mean?
  • How can we ensure data used in algorithms within the justice system is ethical, free from bias, and fairly collected?
  • How can we review/disclose decisions made by the algorithm?
  • Are the decisions made by the algorithm advisory?
  • Who owns the algorithm and the data analysed?
  • What are the post-implementation oversight mechanisms to identify bias?
  • Can the accuracy of the algorithm be validated regularly?
  • Which processes in the legal system can be replaced by algorithms?
  • Are there any no-go areas?
  • What framework is needed, if any, around the use of algorithms in the justice system?

Session 1 was held on 25 July 2018 from 4-6pm at the Law Society's Hall, 113 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1PL.

Guest commissioner Andrea Coomber, Director of Justice, joined the Commission for this session, which concerned the current state of algorithms in the justice system and what is on the horizon.

The witnesses the commissioners heard were:

  • Dr Reuben Binns, Dr Nikos Aletras and Michael Veale
  • Professor Burkhard Schafer and Professor Lilian Edwards
  • Dr Ricardo Silva, Professor Lorna McGregor and Alexander Babuta
  • Roger Bickerstaff and Professor David Hand OBE
  • Chief Constable Michael Barton

Download a summary of the written evidence submitted by the witnesses (PDF 2mb).

Listen to the audio recording of the session:

Listen to "Technology and the Law Policy Commission evidence session 1 on the state of algorithms in the justice system" on Spreaker.

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 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.

Current use of algorithms in the justice system

Durham Police use the HART algorithm, which assists custody officers in deciding whether a suspect should be released, kept in the cell, or made eligible for a local rehabilitation programme.

Kent Police use the PredPol programme, which informs them of crime hotspots. PrePol uses artificial intelligence to learn crime patterns from historical records. The Kent system was trained on five years of crime data, and the algorithm is now updated daily with the force's most recent three years of records. After crunching the data, PredPol returns a daily list of 180 hotspots, each 500 ft by 500 ft, where it predicts the crime risk is high.

South Wales Police use facial recognition technology to identify wanted criminals. They have trialled it at large events - such as boxing matches, the Champions League final and rugby games - with very mixed results. The Met Police have also trialled the technology at the Notting Hill Carnival.

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 president of the Law Society of England and Wales.

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.