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Technology used in the justice system is outpacing scrutiny and regulation

30 March 2022

The Justice and Home Affairs Committee publishes its report Technology rules? The advent of new technologies in the justice system. The report explores the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other advanced algorithmic tools in activities to discover, deter, rehabilitate, or punish people who breach the law in England and Wales. The report acknowledges the potential of these technologies but warns against the pace of their deployment and the absence of appropriate safeguards.

The report

When deployed within the justice system, AI technologies can have serious implications for a person’s human rights and civil liberties. While acknowledging their many potential benefits, the Committee was taken aback by the proliferation of AI tools being used without proper oversight, particularly by police forces across the country.

Where informed scrutiny would be essential, the Committee instead uncovered a landscape in which new technologies are developing at a pace that public awareness, government, and legislation have not kept up with – a new Wild West.

To facilitate scrutiny, the Committee calls for the establishment of a mandatory register of algorithms used by the police and in the justice system. It also recommends the introduction of a duty of candour on the police.

To clarify governance and guarantee the integrity of the technologies being deployed, the Committee calls for a national body to be established to set strict scientific, validity, and quality standards and to ‘kitemark’ new technological solutions against those standards.

To secure the good use and close monitoring of new technologies, the Committee recommends the mandatory training of technology users and the development of local ethics committees within police forces.

The Committee argues that, as the use of new technologies is becoming routine, these proposed reforms will ensure that we maximise their potential while minimising the associated risks. They would reverse the status quo in which a culture of deference towards new technologies means the benefits are being minimised, and the risks maximised.

Chair's comments

Baroness Hamwee, Chair of the Justice and Home Affairs Committee, said: 

“What would it be like to be convicted and imprisoned on the basis of AI which you don’t understand and which you can’t challenge?
Without proper safeguards, advanced technologies may affect human rights, undermine the fairness of trials, worsen inequalities and weaken the rule of law. The tools available must be fit for purpose, and not be used unchecked.
“We had a strong impression that these new tools are being used without questioning whether they always produce a justified outcome. Is “the computer” always right? It was different technology, but look at what happened to hundreds of Post Office managers.
“Government must take control. Legislation to establish clear principles would provide a basis for more detailed regulation. A “kitemark” to certify quality and a register of algorithms used in relevant tools would give confidence to everyone – users and citizens.
“We welcome the advantages AI can bring to our justice system, but not if there is no adequate oversight. Humans must be the ultimate decision makers, knowing how to question the tools they are using and how to challenge their outcome.”

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