Algorithmic-based decision-making is “risk to justice”

Goodwin: Use common sense instead of algorithms

The head of the Criminal Bar Association has outlined her “grave concerns” about algorithmic technology that is being used in the justice system without adequate regulation.

Caroline Goodwin QC told the Bar Council conference on Saturday that algorithmic-based decision-making was increasingly being used in the criminal justice system.

For example, she said, Durham police was using predictive technology to decide whether a suspect should be kept in custody, and questioned: “What’s wrong with using common sense and local knowledge?”

Algorithms are also used in facial recognition technology being used by other police forces. One campaigner has recently been given permission to bring a legal challenge to its use to the Court of Appeal, which is expected to hear the case by January 2021.

Ms Goodwin said there were “grave concerns” over the use of AI in the justice system, as well as questions over the quality of the data and who owned it. While technology has the potential to save-money, she said it needed to be managed and regulated.

Elsewhere, she said underfunding in the criminal justice system has meant that the court buildings were falling apart, judges demoralised and criminal legal aid lawyers at their wits end after shouldering years of cuts.

She told the conference that the money-saving decision by the Ministry of Justice not to increase the number of Crown Court sitting days meant that 40% of criminal courts were sitting empty while the backlog of cases waiting to be heard was rising.

“If courts are not sitting, then justice cannot be delivered,” she said.

Funding cuts, she added, had also increased the numbers of unrepresented defendants appearing in Crown Courts.

According to figures from the think tank, the Institute for Government, the proportion has risen from 4.9% in 2010 to 7.7% in 2019, leading to increased delays as cases take longer.

Calling for greater investment across the criminal justice system, Ms Goodwin said: “Unless there is investment, it will fail and falter.”

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