Digital technology holds out considerable promise as a tool for speedy and cost-effective decision making in many areas in the public sector, yet it holds out challenges as well. In modern democracies, we expect public sector decision making to be accountable and fair. Parliament should play a key role in ensuring accountability and fairness in public sector decision making, not only through its role as legislator, in which it structures the rules to be applied and processes to be followed, but also in the role it plays in scrutinizing the conduct of the executive and civil service. In addition, courts and tribunals should serve as key mechanisms to ensure accountability and fairness. Policy makers and public lawyers are only just beginning to think about how these traditional mechanisms may need to adapt to ensure accountability and fairness in the digital age.
This book makes an important contribution to that discussion. It provides three case studies of the use of automated decision making in the field of immigration in the United Kingdom. The case studies provide clear illustrations of the challenges that the digital age presents for existing mechanisms of accountability and fairness. The challenges are, perhaps, particularly acute in the field of immigration, the focus of this book, given that immigrants are not citizens, and have limited, if any, influence in democratic politics. Moreover, where immigration has become a contentious political issue, as it has in the UK, mechanisms to ensure fairness and accountability may be at risk of attenuation in the political process. Indeed, the case study on the EU (European Union) Settlement Scheme illustrates how other political issues may affect the design of suitable mechanisms of accountability. The question of whether a tribunal appeal would be afforded to aggrieved applicants under the scheme was an issue in the overall withdrawal negotiations, with the UK adopting the approach that if a withdrawal agreement was not reached with the EU, aggrieved applicants under the scheme would not be afforded a right of appeal to a tribunal. Because an agreement with the EU was reached, a right of appeal to a tribunal was afforded.