Supporting legal professionals in the fight for algorithmic accountability, by Meg Foulkes and Cedric Lombion

Last month, Open Knowledge Foundation made a commitment to apply our unique skills and network to the emerging issues of AI and algorithms.

We can now provide you with more details about the work we are planning to support legal professionals (barristers, solicitors, judges, legal activists and campaigners) in the fight for algorithmic accountability. 

Algorithmic accountability has become a key issue of concern over the past decade, following the emergence and spread of technologies embedding mass surveillance, biased processes or racist outcomes into public policies, public service delivery or commercial products. 

Despite a growing and diverse community of researchers and activists discussing and publishing on the topic, legal professionals across the world have access to very few resources to equip themselves in understanding algorithms and artificial intelligence, let alone enforce accountability.

In order to fill this gap, we are pleased to announce today the launch of the Open Knowledge Justice Programme. 

The exact shape of the programme will evolve in response to the feedback of the legal community as well as the contribution from domain experts, but the our initial roadmap includes a mix of interventions across our open algorithm action framework as seen below:

Shared definitions Standard resources Literacy
Accountability Contribution to the public debate through participation to conferences, seminar and outreach to experts

Building a global community of legal professionals and civic organisations to build a common understanding of the issues and needs for actions raised by algorithms and AI from a legal perspective

Participation to the elaboration of the European Union’s AI policy

Contribution to current UK working groups around algorithms, AI and data governance

Participation to other national and international public policy debates to embed accountability in upcoming regulations, in collaboration with our partners

Developing open learning content and guides on existing and potential legal of analysis of algorithms and AI in the context of judicial review or other legal challenge
Monitoring Mapping of relevant legislation, case law and ethics guidelines with the help of the community of experts Delivering trainings for legal professionals on algorithm impact investigation and monitoring
Improvement Curation, diffusion and improvement of existing algorithm assessment checklists such as the EU checklist Training and supporting public administration lawyers on algorithmic risk


How these plans came about

These actions build on our past experience developing the open data movement. But we’ve also spent the last six months consulting with legal professionals across the UK. Our key finding is that algorithms are becoming part of legal practice, yet few resources exist for legal professionals to grapple with the issues that they raise.  This is due in part to the lack of a clear legal framework, but mainly because the spread of algorithm-driven services, either public or private, has accelerated much faster than the public debate and public policies have matured.

What is an algorithm? What is the difference between algorithms and artificial intelligence? Which laws govern their use in the police force, in public benefit allocation, in banking? Which algorithms should legal professionals be on the lookout for? What kind of experts can help legal professionals investigate algorithms and what kind of questions should be asked of them? 

All these questions, although some are seemingly basic, are what lawyers, including judges, are currently grappling with. The Open Knowledge Justice Programme will answer them. 

Stay tuned for more on the topic! For comments, contributions or if you want to collaborate with us, you can email me at

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Meg designed the Open Knowledge Justice Programme in response to the important questions posed by the increasing use of information technology, data and algorithms in the justice system. The resulting training curriculum has developed from her experience within Open Knowledge’s School of Data project team, supporting the delivery of data-driven projects aimed at governments, journalists and citizens. Prior to joining the Open Knowledge Foundation, Meg worked as a legal adviser to detained asylum seekers.