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Wikipedia articles are heavily influencing judges’ decisions, study finds

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Judges are being influenced by legal articles on Wikipedia, a latest study has found.

Researchers led by Neil Thompson from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) created latest legal Wikipedia articles in an experiment to look at how they affect the legal decisions of judges.

They produced over 150 latest Wikipedia articles on Irish Supreme Court decisions, written by law students – half of which were randomly chosen to be uploaded online, while the opposite half were kept offline.

The group then checked out two measures: whether the cases were more more likely to be cited as precedents by subsequent judicial decisions, and whether the argumentation in court judgments echoed the linguistic content of the brand new Wikipedia pages.

They found that having a public Wikipedia article online increased a case’s citations by greater than 20 percent. The rise was larger for citations by lower courts corresponding to the High Court, but and absent for citations by the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.

This might indicate that Wikipedia is used more by judges or clerks who’ve a heavier workload.

“To our knowledge, that is the primary randomized field experiment that investigates the influence of legal sources on judicial behavior. And since randomized experiments are the gold standard for the sort of research, we all know the effect we’re seeing is causation, not only correlation,” says Dr Thompson.

“The indisputable fact that we wrote up all these cases, however the only ones that ended up on Wikipedia were those who won the proverbial ‘coin flip,’ allows us to point out that Wikipedia is influencing each what judges cite and the way they write up their decisions.

“Our results also highlight a vital public policy issue. With a source that’s as widely used as Wikipedia, we would like to be certain we’re constructing institutions to make sure that the knowledge is of the very best quality. The finding that judges or their staffs are using Wikipedia is a much larger worry if the knowledge they find there isn’t reliable.”

Along with the case citations made in the choices, the group also analysed the language utilized in the written decision – and located that judges had paraphrased a number of the Wikipedia entries within the draft opinion before publishing his opinion.

“The text of a court’s judgment itself will guide the law because it becomes a source of precedent for subsequent judicial decision-making. Future lawyers and judges will look back at that written judgment, and use it to choose what its implications are in order that they’ll treat ‘like’ cases alike,” says co-author Brian Flanagan.

“If the text itself is influenced, as this experiment shows, by anonymously sourced web content, that’s an issue. For the numerous potential cracks which have opened up in our “internet” that’s the web, you possibly can imagine that this vulnerability could potentially result in adversarial actors manipulating information. If easily accessible evaluation of legal questions is already being relied on, it behooves the legal community to speed up efforts to make sure that such evaluation is each comprehensive and expert.”

paper describing the study is being published in The Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Jurisprudence.

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