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Startling Evidence: Judge Used Google For Proof

judge uses google as evidence in court.

When Google Becomes Your Legal Guru: Unconventional Evidence Source Raises Eyebrows in SA Courts

Evidence: A Google-Infused Bail Decision

In a baffling twist that could rival even the most convoluted courtroom drama, a recent incident in a South African court has left legal pundits scratching their heads. The fact that a magistrate resorted to none other than Google for legal insights during a bail decision has raised eyebrows and prompted some to question if the nation’s courts are venturing into the realm of absurdity.

Summoning Google in the Courtroom: Judge’s Bizarre Act

The saga unfolded when a magistrate granted bail to James Junior Aliyu, who stands accused of being a cybercrime kingpin. However, it was not the decision itself that caused the stir, but the peculiar fact that the magistrate openly admitted to using Google as a source of evidence. Yes, you read that right – Google, the go-to search engine for cat videos and cooking recipes, was summoned to weigh in on a matter of legal significance.

a picture of judge johnson

Judge Johnsons’s Quizzical Glance

The peculiar incident came under the watchful eye of Acting Judge Peet Johnson, who seemed to have quite the knack for understatement. He couldn’t help but express his incredulity, remarking, “The learned magistrate, unfortunately, acted as a witness in the case, he acknowledged doing so during his judgement while looking for evidence of a US-Nigeria extradition agreement on Google.

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Questioning the Reliability of Google In Judicial Decisions

However, the absurdity did not end there. Judge Johnson continued, “It is irregular for a court to search for evidence on Google, which had not been proved to be a reliable source of information, to contradict the arguments of one party or the other.” A valid point, indeed. After all, Google has been known to answer life’s most pressing questions with a mix of accuracy and wild speculation, leaving us all to ponder whether that rash really a rare tropical disease is.

Wikipedia Weaves Its Magic

Surprisingly, this is not the first time South African courts have taken a somewhat unconventional approach to sourcing information. The ghost of Thuli Madonsela, former Public Protector, looms over the judicial landscape as it was revealed that she once turned to Wikipedia as a reference in her State Capture report. Yes, Wikipedia – the online encyclopedia that any high school teacher will tell you is about as reliable as a fortune cookie’s career advice was used as proof and evidence of ‘State Capture’.

former public protector thuli madonsela who released the state capture report that was used by raymond zondo at the state capture commission.

Thuli Madonsela’s Unexpected Reference

The esteemed Thuli ‘Wikipedia’ Madonsela, often hailed for her work, appears to have woven the tapestry of her findings using threads from the likes of Wikipedia and News24. One can’t help but wonder if her research methodology included scrolling through viral memes or trending Twitter hashtags.

When Legal Research Takes a Comedic Turn

As the legal world takes its whimsical turns, it seems that even the most esteemed figures are not immune to the allure of unconventional research methods and evidence finding. However, the question arises – if the judiciary is embracing Google and Wikipedia, what’s next? Courtroom debates fueled by TikTok videos? Closing arguments supported by GIFs and emojis?

Wikipedia’s Influence on Judicial Reasoning

As if the situation wasn’t intriguing enough, recent research has unveiled another layer to the story. A team of scientists from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and Maynooth University, Ireland, have concluded that Wikipedia has a measurable impact on judicial decision-making. Their findings, detailed in the paper “Trial by Internet: A Randomized Field Experiment on Wikipedia’s afascinating relationship between online content and judicial behaviour is revealed in the article “Influence on Judges’ Legal Reasoning.

a gavel which is used after a judicial decision has been taken.

The Experiment that Unveiled Wikipedia’s Influence

To assess whether Wikipedia impacts judicial decisions, the researchers embarked on a unique experiment. They created new Wikipedia articles to examine how they affected the legal decisions of judges in Ireland. Law students were enrolled to write around 150 Wikipedia articles on Irish Supreme Court decisions. Half of these articles were randomly chosen to be uploaded to Wikipedia, while the other half remained offline, forming the counterfactual basis for comparison.

Wikipedia’s Impact on Citations and Legal Reasoning

The results were astonishing. The addition of a Wikipedia article about a case increased the case’s citations by more than 20%, especially for cases supporting the argument of the citing judge. This connection was particularly noticeable among lower courts, indicating that Wikipedia’s convenience appeals more to judges or clerks with heavier caseloads. Furthermore, the researchers found textual similarities between judicial decisions and corresponding Wikipedia articles, implying that Wikipedia’s contextualization influenced judicial reasoning.

A New Perspective on Judicial Behavior

Neil C. Thompson, the lead author of the paper, commented on the significance of this research. He emphasized that this is the first randomized field experiment investigating the influence of legal sources on judicial behavior. The experiment’s design ensures a causal relationship, not mere correlation. This revelation invites scrutiny not only of the research methods but also of the broader implications for the legal landscape.

A Public Policy Issue

Thompson highlighted a crucial public policy issue that the results underscore. The widespread use of Wikipedia demands efforts to ensure the information’s quality. He pointed out that relying on Wikipedia becomes problematic if its reliability is compromised. This concern holds weight, considering the potential impact of Wikipedia on judicial decisions, even in larger common-law jurisdictions like the United States.

A Gap to Be Filled

The authors of the study conclude that this research illuminates a gap in the legal ecosystem. They suggest that judges need an easily accessible, authoritative source of knowledge. To address this, they propose reinforcing the reliability and review of Wikipedia content, potentially involving legal professionals as supervising editors. Another model mentioned is the Oyez Project in the U.S., which offers synopses of legal decisions written and supervised by legal professionals.

Now what, Google Legal?

In a world where legal decisions are crafted through a blend of traditional expertise and digital resources, the role of unconventional sources like Google and Wikipedia and their use as evidence cannot be ignored. As judges navigate the evolving landscape of legal research, questions about reliability, credibility, and the pursuit of justice remain. The blend of the virtual and the venerable is shaping the future of law, leaving us to ponder how much “wikified wisdom” we are willing to embrace in the halls of justice.

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