Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Analysis Covid Inquiry

Role of mathematical modelling in future pandemic response policy

BMJ 2022; 378 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj-2022-070615 (Published 15 September 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;378:e070615

Read our Covid Inquiry series

Rapid Response:

Re: Role of mathematical modelling in future pandemic response policy

Dear Editor,

Further to the points made by Professor Harold Thimbleby, it will come as a shock to many readers that in 1997, the Law Commission recommended the reintroduction of the presumption that mechanical instruments were in order at the material time, specifically: ‘In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the courts will presume that mechanical instruments were in order at the material time.’

The Law Commission considered that the words ‘mechanical instruments’ extend to include computers, and recommended that the presumption be applied for reasons of practicality whilst believing (wrongly) that justice would not be affected. The law was subsequently changed to allow the presumption.

One result has been the Post Office Horizon scandal, with over 700 postmasters wrongly convicted [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Post_Office_scandal].

How many other similar scandals have occurred - and are still occurring?

The point is, enshrined in the legal presumption is the same presumption Professor Thimbleby has exposed in mathematical modelling: the presumption that code is correct, and therefore requires no scrutiny. The attitude is neither valid in law nor in mathematical modeling.

The legal profession have been warned about this since the second edition (2010) of the practitioner text: Stephen Mason and Daniel Seng, editors, Electronic Evidence and Electronic Signatures (5th edition, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies for the SAS Humanities Digital Library, School of Advanced Study, University of London, 2021), open source at https://humanities-digital-library.org/index.php/hdl/catalog/book/electr... - for which see chapter 5.

Nicholas Bohm, retired solicitor
Paul Marshall, barrister, Cornerstone Barristers, Gray's Inn
Stephen Mason, barrister (no longer in practice)

Competing interests: No competing interests

21 September 2022
Stephen Mason
Barrister
Nicholas Bohm and Paul Marshall
Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London
Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Charles Clore House, 17 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5DR