July 2020 – the media and the main stories

July 2020: the main stories

2 July

European Parliament and European Data Protection Supervisor call for moratorium on facial recognition for law enforcement principles.

5 July

Reports suggest that the purpose built Blackfriars Crown Court in South London has been sold for £65m for retail and residential accommodation has been sold in the latest virtual courts fire sale. Cases will be transferred to outer London Snaresbrook Court. The chairperson of the Bar stated that the court was ‘modern, purpose built and somewhat unusually fit for purpose”. The Ministry of Justice commented: ‘No sale has been completed’.

7 July

‘Harvard announces all course instruction will be taught online for the 2020-21 academic year. Undergraduate tuition of $49,653 remains the same,’ tweets reporter Darren Ravell.

‘A fleet of high-altitude balloons started delivering internet service to Kenya on Tuesday, extending online access to tens of thousands of people in the first-ever commercial deployment of the technology,’ reports the New York Times of an initiative from an Alphabet (Google) company.

8 July

‘An online propaganda campaign used AI-generated headshots to create fake journalists,’ reports The Verge.

Daily Mail reports that ‘Liverpool [Football Club] ‘considering introducing automated AI system which may allow partial re-opening of Anfield next season’… with Jurgen Klopp ‘taking personal interest’ in technology which checks temperature of fans and enforces social distancing.’ 

The Ada Loveless Institute publishes balanced report on use of technology and Covid 19, entitled ‘No green lights, no red lines’. It has six important lessons:

1 Trust isn’t just about data or privacy. To be trusted, technology needs to be effective and be seen to solve the problem it is seeking to address.

2 People’s experiences and expressions of identity matter – and are complex. Categorising individuals can be reductive and disempowering.

3 Public health monitoring and identity systems are seen as high-stakes applications that will need to be justified as appropriate and necessary to be adopted.

4 Tools must proactively protect against errors, harms and discrimination, with legitimate fears about prejudice addressed directly.

5 Apps will be judged as part of the system they are embedded into – the whole system must be trustworthy, not just the data or the technology.

6 The technologies under discussion are not viewed as neutral. They must be conceived and designed to account for their social and political nature.

Good luck with England’s ‘world-beating’, but still awaited, track and trace app.

9 July

James Dineen, a journalist consults an automated therapy ‘woebot’. ‘“I’m an emotional assistant,” Woebot explained, after asking about my mood, which was sluggish and pessimistic. “I’m like a wise little person you can consult with during difficult times, and not so difficult times.” “You’re a person?” I replied, selecting from a list of responses. “I’m not a human,” said Woebot. “But in a way, I’m still a person.” I selected the one response provided: “Oh.” God help us all.

Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC’s respected technology correspondent, reports that compliance with US instructions on withdrawal from Huawei contracts may be more complicated than envisaged. ’BT’s CTO Howard Watson warns Commons #scitech committtee it can’t strip out Huawei from 5G within three years: “That would literally mean blackouts for customers on 4g and 2g, as well as 5g throughout the country.”’

11 July

Hong Kong users of TikTok received the following User Notice lamenting the consequence of US-China unease: ‘Thank you for the time you’ve spent on TikTok and giving us the opportunity to bring a little bit of joy into your life. We regret to inform you that we have discontinued operating TikTok in Hong Kong.’ Always heartening to see grace under fire.

12 July

‘The Estonian Ministry of Justice has officially asked Ott Velsberg, the country’s chief data officer, to design a “robot judge” to take care of a backlog of small claims court disputes’ reports Wired. ‘The artificial intelligence-powered “judge” is supposed to analyze legal documents and other relevant information and come to a decision. Though a human judge will have an opportunity to revise those decisions, the project is a striking example of justice by artificial intelligence.’

13 July

The Access to Justice Foundation announces ‘that the Community Justice Fund has secured a £5 million grant from The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK, which will provide vital funding to specialist legal advice organisations adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The £5 million grant from The National Lottery Community Fund will be administered via the Community Justice Fund (CJF), a joint initiative between the Access to Justice Foundation and five other leading social justice funders. The CJF was set up to support specialist social welfare law advice agencies dealing with the immediate impact of the pandemic, as well providing longer term support for the sector’s wider renewal.’

14 July

Justice Connect in Australia announces relaunch of its self-help tools for Victorian tenants.

18 July

Vishal Chawla, a senior tech journalist at Analytics India, analyses ‘What Went Wrong With Clearview AI?’, the facial identity scrappers.

Litigants in Person Network opens collaborative document on learnings from Covid 19 and access to justice.

21 July

JusticeConnect publishes guidance on IT agreements for the not for profit sector which is jurisdiction-specific but generally useful.

Privacy International cautions against use of ‘immunity passports”. ‘Immunity passports’ are a theoretical credential – most likely digital – that someone can prove that they have either had the virus and recovered, or have had a vaccination. [They] are being hyped as a solution to ending lockdowns around the world by actors including the proponents of digital identity; the digital identity industry; think-tanks; and the travel industry. Yet there is currently no scientific basis for these measures, as highlighted by the WHO. The nature of what information would be held on an immunity passport is currently unknown. The social risks of immunity passports are great: it serves as a route to discrimination and exclusion, particularly if the powers to view these passports falls on people’s employers, or the police. The digital identity industry – pushing their own products as immunity passport solutions – is failing to protect against these harms: they are interested in building wider digital identity systems, based on their pre-existing models, rather than developing a genuine solution to the risks of these passports.’

22 July

Tom MacInness of Citizens Advice reports on improvements to how they report on data which he argues were made possible by remote working: ‘we never would have done this in the office. Booking a room for that many people would have been a headache, and the whole thing would have felt like too much of a production. As it is, people don’t need to prepare a presentation, stand up in front of a group or do any of the things that make big group meetings in person so anxiety inducing.’

23 July

Citizens Advice reports rise in rental arrears queries of 332 per cent from April to June as compared with last year.

BBC reports President Trump using Ukraine photo to show US violence.

HiiL closes bids for its 2020 Innovating Justice Challenge.

24 July

BC’s Civil Resolution Tribunal publishes figures on cases issued during the pandemic – numbers of the online procedures halved in April but have since begun to build up.

28 July

HiiL publishes international analysis of impact of Covid 19 on justice systems.

30 July

An Indian law school survey reports that ‘42 percent of law practitioners anticipate that 20 percent of their day to day legal work could be taken over by technology such as AI in the next 3 to 5 years …  The survey shortlist, in order of importance, the qualities that young lawyers should currently possess to be relevant and in demand. Research and analytics (94 percent) tops the charts, followed by attention to detail and a sharp eye for accuracy (93 percent), ability to work hard (71 percent), an openness to learn (72 percent) and oral and communication skills (88 percent).’

England’s first law centre, in North Kensington, turns 50 – having successfully weathered turning me down for a training contract in 1971.

CharityDigital gives advice to not for profits in relation to the dark web – basically, don’t even think about going there.

Royal College of General Practitioners reports on digital medical services – with obvious implications for law: ‘Remote consultations can provide both benefits and challenges for patients and GPs and while convenient and efficient for many, ‘won’t be suitable or preferable for everyone’ the Royal College of GPs has said today as it releases the results of a survey of its members. The College says that general practice has undergone a ‘technological revolution’ during the COVID-19 pandemic and that there are lessons to be learnt from the new ways GPs and their teams have been working – but that post-pandemic it is vital patients are able to access GP services in ways that meet their health needs and preferences.’

House of Commons Justice Committee publishes report on the impact of Covid 19 on the courts. On technology, it concludes: We broadly welcome the greater use of technology which is an intrinsic part of HM Courts and Tribunals Service’s reform programme. HM Courts and Tribunal Service, the Judiciary, Magistracy, and legal professionals have done extremely well to keep the court system ticking over despite the restrictions imposed during the pandemic. A high proportion of hearings have gone ahead remotely in particular areas, such as for commercial cases. However, we would not like to see remote hearings maintained permanently without further assessment of the experiences and satisfaction of lay participants, including their access to the necessary technology and comprehension of proceedings. We are particularly concerned that disabilities or poverty can make it very difficult for some people to access justice properly via remote hearings. 

71.There is a risk that technology exacerbates the sense of there being a two-tier justice system. The appellate courts at the top of hierarchy have moved fairly seamlessly to remote hearings. Large commercial law firms have welcomed the shift to remote hearings and advocated for the expanded use of remote hearings in commercial litigation. 

72.At the coalface of the justice system, in the criminal justice system and the Family Court, technology has played a positive role in enabling the wheels of justice to turn where they otherwise might not have. However, in terms of the overall impact of technology, our sense is that it carries many more risks for those who are the most vulnerable users of the justice system. The magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court are ill-equipped to adapt to using technology when compared to appellate courts tacking commercial cases. 

73.It is particularly worrying that when it comes to evaluating the impact of technology, we know the least about those who are most in need of support. We support the call from the authors of the Civil Justice Review who state that “the most pressing priority relates to the need to understand the experience of non-professional court users, particularly those who are considered vulnerable under existing law and practice directions, those with protected characteristics and those who are litigants in person”. 

74.We recommend that HMCTS set out a policy to ensure that court users, particularly those who are or may be considered vulnerable, are sufficiently able to follow and participate in virtual processes. This policy should specify how such checks are to be carried out and which official of the court is responsible for making them. A report should be made by that official to judges or others conducting proceedings to the effect that participants are able to understand what is being done and participate as appropriate before proceedings commence or continue.

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