Update law on computer evidence to avoid Horizon* repeat, ministers urged

Legal experts are urging the government to revise the law to recognise that computers can make mistakes or else face the possibility of a situation similar to the Horizon scandal. As per English and Welsh law, the assumption is that computers are “reliable” unless there is evidence to the contrary. The criticism of this approach has been that it reverses the burden of proof applied in criminal cases. The legal assumption that computers are dependable comes from an older common law principle, which states that “mechanical instruments” should be presumed to function correctly unless there is evidence to the contrary. The increasing use of AI systems has made it even more important to review the current laws.

*The Horizon IT scandal refers to the electronic point-of-sale (Epos) system introduced by the Post Office to replace the old paper-based tills. However, the plan was faulty and caused significant issues for sub-post managers. The bugs in the system resulted in discrepancies in the accounts of post office operators, who were unfairly held responsible for the errors. The Post Office also falsely claimed that there was no functionality in the system for either a branch, Post Office, or Fujitsu to edit, manipulate, or remove transaction data once it had been recorded in a branch’s accounts. In reality, the staff at Fujitsu had “unrestricted and unaudited” access to those systems. The scandal has been called the most significant miscarriage of justice in British history, with Paula Vennells, who ran the Post Office from 2012 to 2019, agreeing to return her CBE.

Source: Guardian






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