In an historic day for justice, Britain’s first entirely automated criminal trial took place at the Old Bailey as Sir Michael Rake, chairman of British Telecom, was tried on charges of customer services abuses and corporate inhumanity to man. Standing in the dock of an empty courtroom, Rake was presented with the telephone which would be his only way of communicating with the faceless system deciding his destiny, and warned in advance that his trial may be recorded for training purposes.
Proceedings began with a displeased Rake dialling a premium rate number, at which point he was welcomed by the voice of an automated clerk and asked to state his name clearly after the tone. Court records show that the defendant was heard to say, ‘Sir Michael Rake,’ which was immediately followed by an electronic beep, and then, after a pause, the words, ‘Oh, for Christ’s sake. Sir Michael . . .’, before the clerk interjected and told the defendant, ‘We are sorry, we did not catch that. Please try again or you will be placed on remand at Brixton Prison.’
After several laboured, phonetic enunciations of his name, an increasingly irritated Rake was informed by the clerk of the charges laid against him, before being given the options, ‘To plead guilty, press 1. To plead not guilty, press 2′. At discovering there was no option to query the prosecution’s charges, Sir Michael Rake looked around the courtroom in disbelief, before angrily asking the empty chamber, ‘Can’t I just speak to a human being?’ After a lengthy pause, the clerk responded, ‘You don’t appear to have selected an option. To plead guilty, press 1. To plead not guilty, press 2.’
Confronted only with silence for several minutes, a now visibly infuriated Sir Michael Rake was seen to pace the courtroom muttering profanities indecipherable to the automated clerk, before finally striking the phone’s numberpad with the handset in a fit of anger. ‘You’ve chosen to plead guilty,’ the clerk announced, at which point an emotionally exhausted Rake broke down and delivered a detailed confession of his company’s crimes, all of which was recorded to help the court improve its service to future customers.
‘We are thrilled that the first fully-automated, unmanned trial has been such a success,’ said His Honour Justice Collins afterwards. ‘And we’re delighted that it was the chairman of BT who was the first to test it out. I’m sure he’ll be enormously grateful that our new efficient system has brought this painful ordeal to such a swift conclusion.’ Justice Collins sentenced Sir Michael Rake to 200 hours community service in the court service’s new Mumbai call centre.