Lord Pannick QC suggests criminals should be sentenced by computer

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By Katie King on

King of Brexit legal challenge gives law tech the thumbs up


Blackstone Chambers’ Lord Pannick QC has said using a computer programme to punish offenders would lead to more consistent criminal justice and save a lot of money on sentencing appeals.

The public law guru — seemingly giving a thumbs up to more tech in the courtroom — made his case in The Times (£) this morning.

He began his regular column, headlined ‘Why no offender wants to face a judge who is tired, hungry or disappointed’, by stating judges are more or less lenient depending on their mood.

Citing a new study from across the pond, Pannick — who is the face of a new law-themed clothing range — said custodial sentences given on the Monday after the switch to daylight saving time were consistently longer than those given on any other day. Just one hour’s lost sleep equated to a difference in sentencing of about five percent, and the researchers suggested that if the judge is more tired, the punishment will be even tougher.

It’s not just a lack of sleep defendants should be worried about. Consistency in sentencing can also be affected by judges’ hunger and how well their sports team is performing.

With research on this in abundance, the more difficult question, Pannick said, is what we do about this. He went on:

We could hang signs in court reminding judges (echoing the message displayed on motorways), ‘Don’t Decide Tired’. The Judicial Appointments Commission could adopt a policy of not appointing fans of Tottenham Hotspur to the bench because they will be disappointed each year to finish below Arsenal in the Premier League table. And the Ministry of Justice could provide a running buffet for all judges throughout the working day.

Interesting suggestions no doubt, but Pannick had one more:

Or we might start to consider whether consistency in sentencing decisions might be promoted, irrelevant factors excluded, and a lot of money saved on sentencing appeals by the use of a computer programme.

While an endorsement like this will no doubt delight law tech geeks, Legal Cheek thinks the public law maestro is, at this moment, a little pre-occupied to push on with his robot judge dreams.

It’s likely he’ll be spending the next few days preparing for the upcoming Miller judgment, which is due to be handed down by the Supreme Court Tuesday morning.

Readers will recall this is the official name for what’s been dubbed ‘the Brexit legal challenge’. Pannick represents lead claimant Gina Miller, who argued before eleven justices in December that Article 50 cannot be triggered by prerogative power alone and must be conditional on a free vote in parliament.

Pannick received rave reviews for his advocacy during both the High Court and the Supreme Court hearings. Stay tuned to see whether this is enough to sway Lord Neuberger and co.

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