21st Century justice: guilty, says PC

What a great idea (Run, I tell you! And keep running!)

Oh my god, all those cheesy 70s sci-fi TV series were right. The first brick has been laid in what may become a computerised legal system. As with all terrible ideas, it is with efficiency in mind that a Brazilian judge has created the Electronic Judge - a Visual Basic program that decides whether someone is guilty and how big the fine/ jail sentence(!) should be. Installed on a laptop, installed on a wandering judge, the software assesses incidents from witness reports and forensic evidence and then comes to a swift conclusion, printing out a reasoning in tandem. Yes, it really is that scary. Brazil's legal system is completely overloaded (something that won't come as a surprise if you've ever been there), and so Judge Pedro Valls Feu Rosa whipped up the program to deal with "straightforward" cases. Following an incident, a rapid-response justice team (we're not making this up) can be on the scene in ten minutes. The program offers multiple-choice questions like: "Did the driver stop at the red light?" A couple of these later and the verdict is returned. Of course, the human judge can override the judgment if he/she so decides. Now you have to wonder what possible use this program has when attached to an actual judge. Judges are either supremely incompetent, or the intention is to dish this laptop out to jobsworths in the police. We don't know whether the thought of a policeman pulling you over, asking a few questions, taping them into a laptop and then informing you you're off to jail for three years, is a little scary to you, but this is the first time The Register has agreed with the survivalists camped out in Oregon in their nuclear shelters. The same system has been running in neighbouring country Argentina for a few years with the Buenos Aires police. Except they don't use computers. There they call it endemic corruption. Apart from the fact that the Brazilians have completely forgotten one of the main understandings of any legal system - that people lie when faced with fines and jail - we were disturbed to find that the UK and US think this might be a good idea. A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor told the BBC that the system "would have to satisfy the authorities that it was absolutely foolproof" before being implemented. No shit. We'd have preferred the response: "Don't be ridiculous." And Judge Rosa said that he was actually in discussions with insurance companies in the US over a similar system. Can you imagine what would happen if one of these machines was allowed near the US civil prosecution laws? Didn't the world make more sense before these computational machines? ®

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