Not fully transparent

Polish justice ministry refuses to show code for assigning judges

16/02/2018

Poland’s Ministry of Justice is refusing to make public the computer algorithms that are used to randomly assign judges to cases. The ePaństwo Foundation, an NGO promoting open government, in December asked the Warswaw Regional Administrative Court to intervene.

The ministry’s System Losowego Przydziału Spraw (Random Allocation of Judges System, or SLPS) has been operating in all 374 common courts across the country since the beginning of this year. With its daily random assignment of judges to new cases, SLPS is intended to guarantee judicial impartiality. “Assigning cases to individual judges must be completely transparent and free from manual control,” the ministry explained in an announcement in October.

However, the ministry does not want to disclose any details of the software solution and the computer system on which it runs. A request to publish these details, filed in October by the ePaństwo Foundation, was rejected.

“The Minister replied that the information we requested did not constitute public information,” writes Krzysztof Izdebski, programme director of the ePaństwo Foundation, in a blog post. The ministry, in its November reply to the foundation, said the algorithm is part of a source code, which according to Polish jurisprudence cannot be accessed or reused, Izdebski told OSOR.

Turning point

The case is comparable to a 2016 request by the Association Droit des Lycéens in France, whose members wanted to study the source code of an algorithm that influences students’ choice of university after the Baccalauréat exam. After several refusals, France’s Ministry of Education made a printed version of the code available. (It was subsequently transcribed and published on GitHub.) The publication came just a few months after the French tax authorities published the source code of the ‘tax calculator’ used to determine citzens’ income taxes. These two cases resulted in additions to the French law for a digital republic, to allow citizens to request access to source code from public services.

More information:

Ministry of Justice’s Random Allocation of Judges System (in Polish)
Announcement by ePaństwo Foundation
Wiadomosci news item (in Polish)
Gazeta Wyborcza news item (in Polish)

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