Brave New World

In H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds the narrator meets an artilleryman who has also survived the initial onslaught of the invading Martians and their walking machines equipped with heat rays. The artilleryman explains to the narrator that he has already decided the Martians cannot be defeated and that the only chance of survival for the human race is to start a whole new world underground, away from the deadly heat rays.

The artilleryman describes a society living in a network of sewers and other tunnels. He talks of areas big enough to play cricket, of schools and universities. He tells the narrator that he has started work already on the scheme and takes him to where work has commenced.

For those of us born in the seventies, the next words will always be spoken in the voice of Richard Burton as the narrator observes

In the cellar was a tunnel scarcely ten yards long, that had taken him a week to dig. I could have dug that much in a day, and I suddenly had my first inkling of the gulf between his dreams and his powers.

That short passage and the notion of crazy ideas obviously falling short of reality was immediately brought to mind when I read a short article penned by Lucy Frazer MP about delays in the criminal justice system and her solution to the problems that was published in the Daily Telegraph.

Her solution was to make sure cases were listed more quickly. This is a solution in the same way that a doctor telling a diseased patient to get better is a cure.

When I read on to what her plan was, I was a little surprised. The answer did not lie in more courts, judges and advocates being available to clear the backlog and progress cases. The answer, it seemed, owed more to the science fiction of Wells and Asimov. The answer was artificial intelligence.

Apparently AI could replace the judicial function of listing. When counsel have been unable to obtain a date from a Judge that fitted in with our diaries we have often joked that “the computer says no” when back in the robing room. This MP wants to make that the reality.

Anyone with any experience of MoJ and HMCTS computer based schemes would immediately foresee millions and millions being wasted on a system that would end up listing a trial for a case in Manchester in the court at Maidstone. Last week.

But it is not an instinctive mistrust of the ability of government to have an effective IT rollout that caused me to observe that there was a gulf between her dreams and the power of AI, it was the sheer ludicrous nature of the suggestion.

Listing is intrinsically a judicial function. It involves competing interests, at the heart of which is often the competing interests of a myriad of different cases. It is central to the issue as to how long defendants wait in custody for their trials. An algorithm may be able to identify how the production line in a sausage factory can best work, it cannot decide on whether the 12 year old complainant or the defendant that has been in custody for a year should have their trial heard first. And an algorithm cannot hear the submissions that would speak of those competing interests.

Lucy Frazer prayed in aid her understanding of the criminal justice system. I cannot countenance how anyone with experience of the system could suggest this as a solution. It is as realistic as playing cricket in a sewer. And probably contains as much in the way of BS.

The criminal justice system needs no more amateur observers with their ideas of reinventing the wheel when what the system needs is just more air in the tyres.

Dealing with the current backlog and improving the efficacy of the system requires less money than would be wasted on some I, Robot listing officer but it needs funding on the things that every single Judge and criminal lawyer would be able to identify. It is time the government started to listen to people whose only ambition is to improve the system, not gain a promotion.

The article speaks of front loading case preparation and all the usual stuff. Part of the solution is in more work being done as soon as possible. That requires more funding for the police, more funding for the CPS, more funding for lawyers to be paid to do the work, more lawyers with time to do the work. Ally that to more judges to hear the trials and more courtrooms open for them to sit in and the problem is solved.

It doesn’t take daft ideas to improve things. It requires honesty and investment. It’s simple. Whilst Lucy Frazer is ten yards along a tunnel that will lead to nowhere, there are countless men and women who know the answer. Engage with them, not science fiction

2 thoughts on “Brave New World

  1. Pingback: Best of the blogs - Legal Cheek

  2. Robert Askey

    Forget politics, look at the facts. “Technology” was proposed for dealing with the NI border and indeed is posited as a solution for other border issues (for which read ‘delays’) but those who know about these things know that it is not a solution, more that it sounds as if it is a solution. Put simply the so-called ‘government’ (I am obliged to call it that) is simply not fit for purpose and must be replaced by one that is. Lucy Frazer’s “Liz Truss” level of inane commentary is just yet another case in point.



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