"Many people within the legal system feel that it lacks any clear
direction, purpose of vision...[it] is more concerned with rules
and rituals than with people."
Chief Constable, 1993, Thames Valley Police
Chapter Thirty One
"I sometimes think 'good intentions' should be declared a capital
--Robert A. Heinlein, Time For The Stars
"The first thing for you to remember is: Put all thought of
'human rights' out of your mind. No such things exist."
The speaker of these words is, in a sense, not actually there
when the words are said. In fact, the speaker - again, in a sense
- does not exist. The speaker of these words is a computer.
To be more precise, the speaker is a VAS - a Voice Activated
System - named Eris, E.R.I.S. being an acronym standing for
Electronic Referee for the Interpretation of Statutes. The VAS's
name was devised by Deborah Greene and, of course, came into
existence long before its expansion, which was contrived after
the fact in a transparent attempt to justify the system's name as
being an acronym.
Since July 2002, Eris had been the central computer for the new
legal system in the British Isles. It was responsible for the
training of jurors, and also stored within its memory banks a
complete video recording of each trial.
Optical storage technology had expanded dramatically in the past
two years, to the point where a standard four inch optical disk
was perfectly capable of holding fifteen to twenty hours of high-
quality images. As a result, storing such detailed records -
apparently permanently - carried little significant overhead in
terms of storage space.
Eris was also responsible for selecting juries. However, this
was a minor part of its duties - merely requiring the choosing of
five members of the population at random, ensuring that each of
the five satisfied four criteria. Jury service was, of course,
mandatory for those chosen.
The first of these criteria was that the potential juror had to
have full, adult MoneyCard status (in general, this included
everybody aged twelve years or older), the second was that each
juror had had no contact with either the accused or the accuser -
the terms 'plaintiff' and 'defendant' had, for psychological
reasons, been consigned to the same oblivion as the rest of the
legal system. The requirements of this second criterion were
established, initially, by a check of the banking records and,
later, a non-intrusive polygraph test along the lines of those
used during The Embargo.
Thirdly, the potential juror had to be somebody not previously
picked for jury service. In fact, the situation was a little more
complex - somebody who served on a jury had their computer record
'flagged' as previously-picked. When the time came - as it
inevitably would - that there were insufficient eligible people
for a given jury, then all the previous 'flags' would be removed
and the cycle started over again. In this way, everybody would -
in theory - serve on a jury at some time, rather than one person
serving on - say - ten juries, and another serving on none.
The final criterion involved the personal circumstances of the
juror himself. If a juror was unfit or incapacitated in some
fashion - or if that juror's presence at work was too vital to
permit jury service to be a reasonable course - then a juror
could be excused jury service at that particular time.
Thus, parents were excused if they had a child less than two
years old, and scientists might be excused if their work could be
demonstrated to be at a critical point which required their
Once a jury of five people had been selected came Eris's most
important task as the VAS for the legal system - the training of
The jurors were initially trained fairly intensively for one
week, though longer was taken if it appeared to be necessary or
was requested by the members of the jury. Then - the initial
training over with - each group of five would observe three
trials and decide on their verdicts.
If the verdicts of a group agreed with the verdicts of the two
separate - and independent - groups of five which made up the
actual juries in the cases in all three of the observed trials
then they were judged to be ready for actual jury service in a
real trial. If not, that group would be abandoned entirely.
"There is no such thing as a 'human right,'" Eris was repeating
to a group of five potential jurors. Simultaneously, the same
lecture was being given by the same computer - in various other
rooms - to several other groups of five; several other potential
At the head of the table sat Dot, who had been decided upon as
the chairman pro tem for this particular jury. To Dot's left sat
Gordon Bowman, a freckly, red-haired cousin of David Bowman - the
co-pilot killed on the flight of the Phaelon.
Beside Bowman was David Jubal, television producer, looking
smart in his blue, neatly pressed suit, then - beyond Jubal -
were a young Anglican priest, the Reverend David Sessions, and a
statesmanlike scientist, Colin Simoney.
Unsurprisingly, the vicar protested loudly at Eris's
electronically-modulated words: "Blasphemy!" he shouted, "What of
the God-given right to life?"
The computer's response was rather calmer, "No such 'right'
exists under British law, Reverend Sessions. Though you can
continue to think in terms of 'inalienable rights' in most
circumstances, you will find your task simpler if you make the
changeover now to thinking in terms of agreements instead.
"In those terms, then, the - as you put it - 'God-given right to
life' can be seen, instead, as a simple agreement between each
human individual and every other, stating - to put it baldly -
'If you don't try to kill me, I won't try to kill you.'
"The practical upshot is the same, in this case, as with your
'God-given right to life.'
"The difference is a philosophical one - British law is based on
agreements freely entered into by individuals, rather than
mysterious and undetectable 'inalienable rights' which are
traditionally supposed to reside in people as a ghost might
reside in a haunted house.
"Usually," Eris continued, "There will be little or no practical
difference between your 'inalienable rights' viewpoint and the
'freely made contracts' viewpoint of British law. There may be
conflicts, however, in areas where contracts have been freely
waived under specific circumstances.
"In such situations, your duty as a juror," Eris concluded, "Is
to follow the principles of British law - and it is part of my
task to serve as your guide to those principles."
"There is a higher law!" declared Sessions, rising to his feet,
"The Law of God is greater than all man-made laws!" The priest
slammed the table with his fist in emphasis, as Dot and the three
other men in the room automatically pushed their chairs back
slightly - as though trying to distance themselves from him. Or
from his words.
After a moment's silence, Dot spoke. Her voice sounded loud to
her own ears as she said, "Well...Thank you, Mister Sessions," at
a harsh look from the vicar, she hastily corrected herself,
"Excuse me...I mean 'Reverend' Sessions...Thank you for making us
aware of your feelings. I think we're here to concentrate on just
the man-made laws, however. If you could continue, please, Eris?"
she added, raising both her voice and her eyes in the usual
method of addressing a VAS.
The computer made a genteel throat-clearing sound and said,
"Thank you, Dot - Now," it added, absently, as though to itself,
"Where was I? Oh, yes..." This procedure somehow made the jurors
feel more relaxed with the machine - as, indeed, it was intended
A computer, for obvious reasons, had no need to clear its
electronic 'throat,' nor could it lose track of what it was
saying - both of those mannerisms, amongst many others, had been
programmed into it as a way of making the humans it communicated
with more comfortable. Those teams of psychologists who had spent
many months researching and experimenting in such areas would
have been gratified to see the tension drop from the shoulders of
those five people at that moment.
"The first thing," Eris said, "Is for you to provide yourselves
with reasonable methods of analysing evidence. Particularly
evidence given by witnesses - which, even if unintentionally,
tends to be misleading."
The following hours were spent watching a variety of films -
including Sidney Lumet's classic, 12 Angry Men - as well as
watching videos of and taking part in numerous psychological
experiments. These experiments were intended to make various
One demonstration, for example, showed the ease with which
effective-brainwashing could enable a strong-willed person to
implant a false memory in the mind of a weaker-willed person. In
this case, a psychologist hypnotised Gordon Bowman and implanted
a simple, but fake, memory in him. Afterwards, Bowman was unable
to identify the implanted memory as false - even when shown a
video recording of the hypnosis session - until an implanted key
phrase was used.
This demonstration was then reinforced with videotapes showing
how Bowman's experience during his voluntary submission to
hypnosis could be imposed from without - how a false memory could
be implanted against the subject's wishes - by such simple
techniques as constant badgering and sleep-deprivation.
Techniques often employed by police in the questioning of
suspects, in an attempt to obtain "confessions," with similar
techniques employed by some psychoanalysts and others with
authority over the subject in order to "uncover suppressed
It was for these reasons, Eris explained, that uncorroborated
witness evidence - more specifically, uncorroborated so-called
confessions - should be treated with extreme caution. Maybe
disregarded entirely. Certainly, no convictions should be made
purely on the basis of such evidence.
To reinforce the latter point, following Sessions's protests
that convincing witness evidence must be sufficient to convict
under some circumstances, Eris showed a montage of those people
now recognised to have been wrongly convicted under the old legal
system. The faces of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the
Maguires, the...more and more - dozens of faces wandered past on
the screen, each showing the length of time which that (innocent)
person served in prison.
Almost two hundred faces scrolled by on that screen - a total of
close to two thousand man-years served in prison. Even ignoring
the cost to those individuals imprisoned, and the loss of respect
for the legal system due to its growing incompetence, the cost to
the taxpayer of these wrongful imprisonments was over one hundred
The final sessions of the jury's training involved a discussion
of suitable and appropriate sentences to be imposed on those
found guilty. The Three-R system of sentencing was, by now,
fairly well known in the British Isles, but its subtler aspects
fascinated Dot - and infuriated David Sessions - by the end of
The group's next task was to observe actual trials and vote on
their verdicts. If their verdicts in the cases matched those of
the real juries, then their group would be put forward to stand
in judgement (along with another group of five) on its own cases.
"I still think that it was a bad idea, Absolaam," Deborah said.
The three - Absolaam Wye and the Greenes - were alone in the
cabinet room, as was usual in the early afternoon. Again as
usual, with breakfast over, they were gathered around their main
Network Terminal and examining reports.
"A bad idea?" Wye replied, "I assume you're talking about the
priest?" There was no need to ask which priest - they'd spent a
lot of their time over the past few weeks discussing whether or
not to place a religious fundamentalist on a jury. Eventually,
Wye had overruled the Greenes and unilaterally decided to allow
Sessions to become a member of a jury.
"Of course," Graham said, agreeing with his wife, "What else? I
mean," he went on, "The damned fool is hardly likely to concern
himself with the laws of the country is he? They haven't even
finished jury training, and - according to Eris's reports - he's
already questioned the entire basis of the legal system. How many
times, dear?" he asked Deborah.
"Twenty three times, so far," she answered.
"That's a good thing," Wye said, "If only you two could see it.
We need the legal system to be questioned. We need the whole idea
of government to be questioned as much as possible."
"Yes," Graham said, patiently, "But intelligent questions -
rational disagreements. This priest," he spat out the word, "He's
questioning everything on the basis of the vague, supernatural
ideas of his own superstitions. Unprovables."
"Exactly," Deborah and Wye said, in unison - surprising
themselves for an instant. Wye recovered from the surprise first,
saying, "Can't you see that the system itself has to be able to
stand up to precisely those 'unprovables' if it's going to be a
success at all?"
"Sure, Absolaam, but why now? Why not wait until the system is
more established? At least then the damned fundamentalists might
be forced to rationalise agreement with its basic principles."
"You sound like a fundamentalist now, Deborah," Wye replied,
smiling, "In any case," shaking his head, "It wouldn't work. All
that would happen is that they'd remain opposed, claiming that
their philosophy - such as it is - should be the basis of any
legal system. What's the phrase Sessions used? The Law of God is
greater than all man-made laws?
"He - and those like him - will believe that absolutely without
question. Hell, they've believed it in the face of six thousand
years of evidence to the contrary - why should they change their
minds now? No," he shook his head again, more sadly this time,
"The only way to convince fundamentalists is to force them to
paint themselves into a corner where they have to choose between
accepting man-made laws or rejecting what they see as their god's
"Only then will they accept man-made laws."
"And how do we do that?" Deborah and Graham asked,
simultaneously, in scathingly sceptical tones of voice.
"We don't," Wye grinned, irritatingly, "He'll do it himself." At
their still-sceptical expressions, he went on, "Just wait and see
- it will happen. Probably in their third trial judgement, but -
if not - then very soon afterwards. You might be very surprised
to find out just how flexible the Law of God can be," he added.
"Now," Wye asked, "What's this meeting about?"
For a moment, Deborah looked confused at the change of subject,
"Huh? Oh, right," her face cleared, "Nothing special - the
Netherlands ambassador requested a word. No mention as to what
it's about, but there's nothing unusual about that, of course."
Since that first meeting - the Ambassador's Knees-Up of more
than two years earlier - Wye had made it clear that he wanted no
prior warning of subjects to be discussed when meeting with the
representatives of foreign countries. What had initially been a
predilection had become a request, then the request had - in the
course of time - turned into a guideline.
By now, it had ossified into a rule that no mention was to be
made of subjects to be discussed before any meetings.
"Okay," Wye said, "Twelfth flapper," he said into the intercom,
"Ask the Dutch ambassador to come in, please."
After a moment, the door opened and the Dutch ambassador was
shown into the room by the head of the civil service - the
Wye rose to his feet, and strode across to the ambassador,
"Richard!" he said, "Nice to see you again." The ambassador
inclined his head slightly, but said not a word until his long
limbs had been deckchair-folded into a comfortable armchair
facing the Dictator's.
"Drink?" asked Wye as he poured himself a neat bourbon.
"Certainly, Sol. The usual, please."
Wye poured a glass of low-alcohol lager and carried the two
glasses over to the armchairs. He passed the lager over, set down
his own drink then sat down. Comfortable, his bourbon in hand,
Wye took a sip before asking, "And what can I do for you,
The Dutch ambassador sipped his own drink then replied,
concisely and with barely a trace of an accent, "We want a
Network along the same lines as your own."
Wye concealed his glee, successfully. This was a moment he had
been waiting for for all of two years. The first expansion of the
National Network into an International Network. His reply,
however, was more guarded, "I'm not sure, Richard," he said, "I
mean...Well, do you realise how expensive it will be for your
Richard nodded, "Perfectly, Sol," he said, distinctly, "My
government has authorised a considerable payment of..."
Wye held up his hand, cutting off the other's words, "Let's not
hear your government's figures, Richard. Not just now, anyway,"
he added, on seeing the consternation on the ambassador's face,
"Let's just say that a figure of three hundred billion pounds
sterling is about in the ballpark for a country the size of
The Dutch ambassador spluttered into his drink, choking. Wye got
to his feet, and clapped Richard on the back a couple of times.
Once the ambassador had recovered, and Wye had re-seated himself,
he said, "I hadn't thought it would be that expensive."
Wye smiled, "Our own Network," he said, "Has so far cost us..."
His voice broke off in thought, then, changing the inflection of
his voice slightly, he said, "Hagbard, wake up!"
"Yes, Sol?" came the VAS's voice.
"Hagbard, how much has the Network cost since its inception?"
"In pounds sterling, the cash cost has been eight hundred and
seventeen thousand, six hundred and eighty five million eight
"Thanks, Hagbard," Wye broke in.
Wye turned back to the ambassador, "You see, Richard, our own
Network has been horrendously expensive. Though we've recouped
the cost three- or fourfold since - in terms of technological
advances, the reduced cost of a superior educational system, a
vastly simplified monetary system, and so on - it's still a huge
initial investment to make.
"And though your own investment would be lower - a smaller
country with a smaller population - it would still be a massive
"Perhaps we'd better drop the idea altogether, Sol," the
ambassador said, making as though to rise from his seat.
Wye grinned, "No theatrics, please, Richard - you know I'm about
to make a proposal." The Dutch ambassador himself grinned,
sheepishly. "Okay - I will lend your country the money, under
"What will be the British government's conditions?" the
ambassador asked, warily.
"Not the government," Wye said, "I said that I will lend you the
money. Me, personally."
"Do you have such sums in your private bank account?" Richard
asked, not without a little awe, "Such a vast personal fortune?"
"Of course," Wye grinned, "The British government is actually
quite impoverished," he explained, "It's a small government,
after all - and shrinking by the moments. Over the past two
years, I have voluntarily donated some two to three thousand
billion to it from my personal account - Hagbard will have the
exact figures, if you're interested. The figures are in the
public domain in any case."
Richard was lost in thought for a moment, then he asked, "Okay -
what are your conditions then, Sol?"
"Simple, really," Absolaam ticked each condition off on his
fingers, "Firstly, the Dutch Network is to be linked to the
British Network, both physically and via a satellite link, to
form a single, unified structure." Richard nodded his agreement.
"Secondly, all records are to be accessible on the same terms as
the current British Network - that is, all records more than five
years old are to be in the public domain."
"Hold it right there, Sol," Richard said, "Does that include
government records? Personal bank account details? Industry
"Everything," Wye nodded, "Exactly as with the British Network."
"I can't possibly agree to that," the Netherlands ambassador
replied, "My government might agree to twenty years - ten at a
pinch - for our own records, but we can't make an agreement like
that on behalf of major corporations or private citizens."
"Hold a referendum, then," the Dictator said, "And make clear
what the benefits of the Network have been in the British Isles.
I would require such a referendum in any case, as a further
condition, supervised by British observers. And - as with the
British model - a seventy five percent vote in favour of the
proposal would be needed for the proposal to be adopted."
Richard looked dubious, then nodded, "Okay - I'll agree to a
referendum on that and other conditions. Are there any others?"
he asked, anxiously.
"Just two more," Wye grinned, broadly, "Only two more."
"What are they, Sol?" the ambassador sighed.
"Firstly, that the MoneyCard and Home Terminal systems be
incorporated in the Dutch Network, just as they are in the
British Network. And, secondly, that the Dutch legal system be
re-codified in the form of free agreements, as we have done in
the British Isles."
"Impossible!" cried Richard, "My government will never agree to
"Which one?" Wye asked, faking innocence.
"The second, of course!" came the response, "You're effectively
demanding that my government give up its legal and economic
"Not at all," Wye said, disarmingly, "The legal system in
Holland can adopt laws which use a modification such as," he
thought a moment, "I've got it! In British law, 'you' in each
contract refers to all humans. In the Dutch system, some laws may
be Netherlands-specific. In those cases, 'you' could be replaced
in the agreement by 'any citizen of the Netherlands.'
"Hell!" Wye said, "Hagbard could re-phrase the laws for you in
five minutes. All that you would have to do then is have each one
voted on by your own citizens, and you could even keep the law
enforcement services you have now," he added, mischievously.
Richard appeared to be lost in thought for the moment. In
reality, he was seething with suppressed anger. While this inner
turmoil was working itself out, Wye addressed the VAS, "Hagbard,
"Hagbard, produce a transcript of all conversation in this room
since the Dutch ambassador came in. Where approximations appear
in the conversation, substitute exact figures, and append a list
of any and all relevant documentation to the transcript."
A couple of seconds passed, then the VAS said, "Done it, Sol."
"Hagbard," Wye said, getting to his feet, and walking over to
the Network Terminal, "Display the document just produced."
The text started to scroll up the Terminal screen. Wye spent
five minutes erasing and modifying the text into the form of a
yes-or-no proposal for the Dutch citizenry. He was surprised to
see that his initial cost estimate of three hundred billion was
something of an underestimate.
This done, Wye read through the list of titles appended to the
report and selected those articles which he recognised as being
particularly relevant. Finally, he said, "Hagbard, tidy up the
format of the modified transcript on my Terminal screen and
append the full text of the papers referred to by their titles.
"Hagbard, save the document under the name 'Dutch Network
proposal' and print out two copies of it. Thanks, Hagbard."
The reply of "Anytime, Sol" was drowned out by the sound of the
printers clattering away in the corner, churning out copies of
Once printed, Wye took the proposal over the the Dutch
ambassador - who was feeling rather calmer by this time - and
handed both hard copies over to him, "Here's the proposal," the
Dictator said, "Ready to be voted on in your referendum.
"It makes clear that it is to be accepted or rejected in its
entirety - no compromises at all - and includes a complete re-
drafting of the laws of your country in the terms I mentioned.
"The total cost will be five hundred billion pounds sterling, to
be repaid over a period of ten years from the date of the Dutch
Stunned, Richard took the two printouts and allowed himself to
be ushered out of the room.
A month later, there was a referendum in the Netherlands.
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.