“We simply cannot go on with this utterly outmoded way of working… Endlessly re-keying in the same information; repeatedly printing and photocopying the same documents; moving files about, losing all or parts of them in the process… It is a heavy handed, duplicative, inefficient and costly way of doing our work and it is all about to go. Considerably past time, we will finally catch up with the world.” Sir Brian Leveson, June 2015
So opens a soon to be published report shared with trustnodes. Prepared by the Police Foundation, which describes itself as “the only independent think tank focused entirely on influencing policing policy and practice,” together with CGI, the report strongly argues the criminal justice system must reform.
Hundreds of millions are spent on cases that never make it to trial, the report says. With 2/3rd of Crown Court cases failing to take place on the day they were scheduled.
The legal system continues to use paper-based processes, resulting in lost evidence, duplication, errors, which waste public money and lead to unsatisfied victims and witnesses.
The justice system must reform, the report argues, and needs to take advantage of digitization in general and blockchain technology specifically which they say has many benefits.
“Greater use of automation could improve the speed and quality of completing tasks such as auditing casework, and in the future could even help to address issues such as subjective bias in judicial decision-making.
Blockchain technologies could present a unique opportunity to increase accuracy and transparency through secure, auditable distributed records,” Liz Crowhurst, the report’s author and the Policy Officer at The Police Foundation said.
The report looks at Estonia “where Blockchain technologies are well-established, they are now trusted to facilitate e-tax and e-voting through securely verifying citizens’ records,” the report says, while further arguing industry and law firms have adopted these new technologies while the legal system falls far behind.
Each and every criminal case could be logged and amended using blockchain technology, the report says. “When a record is legitimately updated, for example, changes are reflected automatically across multiple copies – often within a matter of seconds,” it says. Further explaining that any modification leads to an audit trail. Moreover:
“Blockchains are regulated by technical code which is programmed into the software itself. Whereas breach of legal or regulatory rules results only in the potential for some form of punishment to be dealt, breach of technical codes causes an error to be returned and no activity to occur.”
The report further mentions smart contracts which could be used to provide automatic updates to relevant parties without any further work for the agencies, while also potentially automating low level repetitive tasks.
There are, however, significant barriers to reforms, with one of them being, in our view, the law itself. There are considerable restrictions, especially in USA, concerning what constitutes legal advice, for example, which stifles to the point of strangling innovation in this area.
It is, however, less of a problem in UK, with a Lancaster University team recently presenting a proof of concept to blockchenize legal contracts, a concept that, in its basics, can be applied to wider legal problems.
But entrepreneurs appear hesitant to enter this highly regulated area, which may in part explain why the justice system is so incredibly behind adopting very beneficial new technology.
Law makers and regulators, therefore, need to give a green signal that as long as you are being reasonable, they won’t take enforcement action even though the black letter law might have been breached, but not necessarily its spirit in the bigger picture.
Otherwise, the criminal justice civil servants won’t have any start-ups to go to or any entrepreneur that approaches them with a new and better way of easily transferring the paper based system to innovative and beneficial technology.
As such, they need to endorse the move fast and break things mantra, which has worked very well, and do so at least tacitly by either implying it in statements or by not taking action unless there has been a clear criminal breach.
Because the law can’t keep up with innovation. To move forward, we must necessarily break the past.
Doing so in an innovative way while keeping the spirit of the law can be very beneficial and perhaps even necessary if we are to enjoy the full benefits of this new boom in innovation.