The System of Random Allocation of Cases (“SLPS”), introduced as part of the recent judiciary reform in Poland, started operating in the Ministry of Justice in January 2018. Since then, SLPS decides how to assign court cases randomly to judges in common courts. A lot of controversy has arisen around the SLPS. There are doubts as to whether the SLPS is completely random: the media describe situations where, in various politically sensitive trials concerning the same person, the system assigned the same judge several times.
Moje Państwo Foundation won
We were in a trial with the Ministry of Justice regarding access to the SLPS algorithm for 4 years before finally winning the proceedings. The Ministry was obliged to disclose the algorithm. The Supreme Administrative Court stated in its ruling that "(...) the algorithm describing verbally or graphically “step by step” the operation of SLPS, resulting in assigning the filed case to a specific judge, is public information".
Ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court
The Supreme Administrative Court emphasized in its judgement that: “The mode of operation of SLPS provided for in its algorithm (sets of individual instructions implemented by the System) is information about the sequence of activities leading to the appointment of a specific judge to deal with the case. The fact that this sequence of activities is implemented by a computer program and therefore it is of a technical nature, cannot deprive this information (on the manner of appointing a judge) of a public information nature. The applicant organisation is right that the SLPS algorithm in the circumstances of this case is not only technical information, but is an expression of a procedure closely related to the direct situation of the citizens whose cases are being examined. The technical nature of this information is due solely to technological progress.”
This is a crucial judgement with impact on the practical operation of public authorities in the context of using similar technologies in the public sector. As a result of the decision of the Supreme Administrative Court, the Ministry published information in the Public Information Bulletin: https://www.gov.pl/web/sprawiedliwosc/algorytm.
About the SLPS algorithm
The information published by the Ministry consists of 46 pages of verbal and graphical description of how the algorithm works at various stages of the SLPS system operation. Interpretation of the material requires expert knowledge - therefore we asked Jan Żankowski, an experienced engineer at the Foundation, for a technical comment.
The expert noted the following issues:
"The System of Random Allocation of Cases to judges can enjoy full social trust in only one case: if it’s not only the algorithm that’s open and publicly available, but also:
The input parameters, e.g. a list of judges, their allocation coefficients, etc.
The source of randomness, that is, for example, today's results of the "Totolotek" lottery, or today's share prices on the stock exchange.
Otherwise - even if the source code were to be published - people will have reasonable concerns that the code actually running on the Ministry of Justice computer may be modified, subtly, but significantly, or that someone may repeat the court case draw until a desired result comes out, or that the random number generator is not quite so random.
The mention of the "Exclude from the draw" slider is also disturbing - who manages this slider? What rules govern it?
And from a technical point of view, a small thing missing from this document are diagrams of the database tables, often referred to, and a verbal description of the input parameters (e.g. it is not clear what the "HolidaysFrom" parameter is). It is not about specific numerical values in the tables or parameters, but an indication of their intended meaning.
Nevertheless, despite these concerns, at the end of the day I must say that the document allows one to understand "what's going on" and how to write code implementing this algorithm."
An important precedent
For the Foundation, both the judgment of the Supreme Administrative Court, which was issued in the context of the described case, and the publication of the information about the SLPS algorithm by the Ministry (despite some doubts) is a significant step towards greater transparency in public life.
- Information on IT systems algorithms used to perform public tasks should be proactively disclosed by the public sector. The need for universal availability of such algorithms should be identified already at the stage of formulating the demand for a specific IT product. - comments Magdalena Siwanowicz-Suska, Legal Director of the My State Foundation. - This practice has a direct impact on the quality of systems and the transparency of their operation in the public sector. It also enables social control of public authorities - she adds.
We appreciate the ongoing discussion about the need to disclose information on how IT systems operate with the use of automatic decision-making mechanisms or artificial intelligence, particularly those implemented by public authorities.
Currently, the Foundation is conducting another litigation to obtain a report from the Ministry of Justice on all draws of judges using the SLPS so far. The case is pending before the Supreme Administrative Court.
You can read the full judgment justification here: