Assorted legal or political writings

Apart from a career spent mostly doing mathematics and computer science (see here) I have an interest in legal and justice issues. And I have some legal qualifications but minimal experience as a lawyer. So long as I keep my status as a retired academic I'd be able to post stuff here, but maybe I will eventually set up a regular online blog. Meanwhile my email address is Comments welcome.

The UK postmasters

I got interested in this affair initially because the story was of allegedly unreliable computer software. In short, the UK post office introduced a new computer system, "Horizon", which said that numerous postmasters had lost or stolen money, and there were many prosecutions and many more demands for repayment.

An English journalist Nick Wallis has done a great deal to bring this affair to public notice. He has run two websites (one newer, one older), and .

He also has written a book "The Great Post Office Scandal", which I found hard to put down - it's a terrific mixture of the human interest stories of the postmasters affected with a detailed account of the legal processes.

After far too long, it was accepted that the issue was far more likely to be the unreliability of the computer system than the fault of the postmasters. There was a huge civil court case, Bates v Post Office, in the UK, followed by criminal appeals to reverse previous convictions.

Having got interested in it because of my background in both law and proving computer software works correctly, I was quite gobsmacked to find my experience of doing practical statistics was also relevant to the issue, in assessing the statistical evidence of the Post Office's expert witness. Fortunately the judge didn't think much of his analyses either. I write about that (with a few comments on other points) here

UPDATE: When I wrote that piece I wasn't aware of Stephen Mason's article The use of statistics and software code in which he discusses this in detail - his article quotes and discusses Dr Worden's statistics as presented in the opening address of the counsel for the Post Office.

Something Stephen wrote which I found particularly interesting was
As part of my LLM ... , I took the 'Proof' component with Professor Twining. Professor Twining did not let anybody join his course until they passed an exam in statistics.

Reliance by the courts on computer evidence

Stephen, and Paul Marshall and others, have also written several articles on the assumption by the courts that computer software is reliable, for example The use of the word 'robust' to describe software code. For more specifically on the legal background to this, see Robustness and reliability in computer systems

Several academic articles on this topic are collected in special issue Volume 17 (2020) of Digital Evidence and Electronic Signature Law Review

Perverting the course of justice?

A lot of the prosecutions wouldn't have occurred, or succeeded, without some pretty questionable conduct on the part of the prosecutors. I collect a lot of details and quotes from relevant case law here. This includes an Australian case I found, about perverting the course of justice by inducing a guilty plea, was said to be, at the time, the only such case in any Commonwealth court.

Craig Murray - imprisonment for "jigsaw identification"

Craig Murray was convicted of contempt for breaching a court order forbidding the publication of information tending to identify complainers of sexual assault. One issue was "jigsaw identification", that is, if lots of people each publish some scrap of information, then it may be possible to put these together to identify a complainer.

Someone wrote to me

I have no interest in ever publishing the names of the complainers against Alex Salmond myself. The likelihood of someone being able to identify someone however is beyond the control of me as nobody can know what other information someone already has in regards to this. This is why jigsaw identification is such a nonsense.
Quite so.

Another issue is some of the things said in the judgment. These are written up by Kirsten MacDonald in Consortium News. My reaction was that they are so extraordinary that the judges must have been affected by an extreme dislike of Craig and his political activism. Kirsten MacDonald said
an experienced journalist told me that they had never seen a judge so "emotionally invested", as Dorrian against Craig Murray
I can well believe that.

But in reading the judgments I found a lot else to write about as well, like the Moorov doctrine and "similar fact" evidence, and the nature of the intent required (or not) for a conviction.

Craig's contempt conviction was for his accounts of the trial of Alex Salmond for a whole lot of sexual offences. Of course one of the issues in writing about a Scottish court case is the differences between English and Scots law. One very notable difference is the Moorov doctrine, about the requirement for corroboration in criminal trials, and the use of "similar fact" evidence.

So here is a piece about these issues.