‘Please don’t confuse your ChatGPT search with my law degree’ AKA ‘The A.I. faked my homework, Sir’

Civil Lit Tweet’s Gordon Exall highlighted a cringeworthy judgment today that really demonstrates the dangers of AI in a legal context. More importantly it demonstrates the particular dangers for people who are not egally trained, and don’t know what they are looking for or how to verify results or spot hallucinations and bad points.

In this case a litigant in person who was representing herself at a tax tribunal appeal quoted nine AI-generated Tribunal decisions on ‘reasonable excuse’. They looked plausible, but when the lawyers smelled a rat, it was discovered that none of them actually existed and they didn’t actually reflect the law. Luckily for the litigant in person the tribunal accepted that the litigant in person was unaware of the issue – she hadn’t known to check BAILII or The National Archives for the source material. There is a slightly more detailed summary of the case on Gordon’s blog (link above), and for those who want to read the full judgment (which has possibly the longest and most unwieldy title I’ve ever seen), you can read it here:

Harber v Commissioners for His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (INCOME TAX – penalties for failure to notify liability to CGT – appellant relied on case law which could not be found on any legal website – whether cases generated by artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT) [2023] UKFTT 1007.

Anyway, the moral of the story is: Do not rely on AI to do your legal research for you. It is a VERY. BAD. IDEA.

If you MUST use AI to assist you with your legal research, do so with extreme caution: at the very least you must verify all references, source all the judgments in full from an authoritative source, and read all the cases (assuming they exist) to ensure the AI has got it right. This is not an easy task if you aren’t a lawyer. Even once you have done all that, you run the risk, I suspect, of missing important decisions or pieces of law which undermine your arguments, which the AI might have selected out as inconvenient, but it would be better to understand before you put your foot in it.

It’s also worth pondering: if you’ve done all that have you actually saved yourself any time? I’d say probably not.

If you can pay for legal advice from someone who knows their onions, do it. If you can’t, see if you can get some free advice from a law centre, clinic or other free provision or go to authoritative sources: there are plenty of books and leaflets and other publications by lawyers or legal charities that are designed specifically to accurately explain law and procedure to people who aren’t lawyers, so that they are steered in the right direction rather than into a hole or hot water.

If you are a lawyer and are relying on Chat GPT without properly verifying EVERY DARNED WORD, then shame on you.

Delay Repay

In the golden age of rail travel when I were a lad I didn’t need to worry about delay repay. A train delay was a rarity that could be borne with equanimity, even if one couldn’t easily spell it.

Now, it is a point of principle that on every delayed journey (which, let’s face it is every journey taken) I sit and complete the delay repay claim for the previous delayed journey. If the train wifi is up to it. Which it usually isn’t.

There is a serious point here. Two actually. A toofer bonus.

Firstly, a reminder to those who are more junior than me that this is available (I’m sure you already know it), and you should claim for your travel delays where you can. Although I am still currently twitching about a scarring experience involving a fight to the death between Cross Country and Aviva West Coast as to who would compensate me for the rare but wasted first class ticket I bought on the day of the big storm (I know, I practically caused the national rail disruption by stupidly buying a first class ticket) – resolved yesterday when Cross Country realised that it was cheaper to cough up than to keep trying to fob me off or pass me back to Aviva – it is generally an efficient and straightforward process. And you have to cut your overheads where you can.

Secondly, a mischievous thought…. wouldn’t it be great if we could do a delay repay claim every time we go to court and end up hanging around or get adjourned off for ‘no judge’? I suppose perhaps that might have been more justifiable in the days of the block list, which are no longer de rigeur, but perhaps the delay repay idea could be deployed to compensate us for trials prepped for but which never seem to arrive at platform? Always tantalisingly 6 minutes away, so one needs to be prepped and ready to embark, but suddenly shows as cancelled just as you think its definitely coming around the bend. No doubt a big plus point in favour of the adoption of this wheeze would be that delay repay is administered via portal. And as we all know, portals are the answer to pretty much everything. Even if they work about as reliably as the rail network on a stormy day in November…

Actually, being slightly more serious – the government has apparently realised it might need to pay travel expenses to QLRs. See recently published Government response to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Report on The Family Court and domestic abuse, published last week. At last. But take care. The response refers only to QLRs travelling outside of their local area to meet demand (none of those terms are defined) and says that ‘To help address this issue and in recognition of the added cost of this travel, the Government will legislate to introduce a travel expense policy for QLRs which will enable recovery of travel expenses in certain circumstances. Further information about this policy will be provided in due course.’ I doubt this will really reliably defray travel costs for QLRs without hassle and risk of justifying why this QLR was needed to travel to this court and why they couldn’t have walked to get there. the QLR scheme could also do with taking a leaf out of the delay repay model on other fronts – over on the transparency project blog one commentator points out that the LAA are refusing claims for XX Prep to QLRs where for reasons outside their control they have attended a xx hearing but no xx has taken place. Boo hiss to that.

Meanwhile, HMCTS seem finally to have taken my hints that their data management in respect of the QLR lists is shockingly bad, and the constant flow of emails begging me to travel to Bournemouth for no money (where I never signed up) seems to have slowed. But possibly only because its a weekend (not that the fact its a weekend has stopped them before). With bus like predictability, I had 6 land all at once in my inbox on Friday, but my usual Saturday smattering of requests for me to travel is strangely absent.

The sad thing about delay repay is that it is utterly ineffective. Its purpose and effect is (presumably) supposed to be incentivising train companies to run efficient and timely services so as to avoid the eyewatering levels of compensation that they are obliged to shell out if they don’t get it right. That is of course because it is a crude mechanism and the reasons for delays are multifactorial and complicated. But I do wonder, if we were properly compensated for all the wasted (and unpaid) hours we spend on cases that don’t go ahead for reasons outside our control, whether perhaps the system would magically run better. Or if not, at least we would be slightly less worn down by the endless hours we spend sitting miserably, waiting to get to our destination when we should be at home with our families.

Love the one you’re with

Showing my age there, using *that* song title as a name for my post…

But then, I am getting pretty ancient. As evidenced by the fact that this month we hit our 23rd wedding anniversary. I say hit, it was more the sort of dull thud that a pigeon makes when it knocks itself out careening into your patio doors. Once again, we’ve postponed the celebration, romantic weekend away bit of the anniversary. Other things seem more important right now and people need our attention. But we did manage to exchange cards a week after the actual anniversary, and to share a bottle of fizz before collapsing on the sofa in a snooze pile.

We family lawyers spend most of our time immersed in other people’s relationship breakdowns, how it happened and how it has affected the family. I’ve been surrounded by broken relationships for almost as long as I’ve been married (I started my legal training the week after I got married, skipping the first week’s lectures to tie the knot).

We have a running joke in our house “Right, that’s going in the divorce petition”. Or we did, until no fault divorce came along and stopped our fun. (I know, lawyers have a rum sense of humour.) But in truth, continually seeing other people come to the horrible realisation that leaving their partner hasn’t miraculously made their life a bed of roses (understatement) is a good incentive for working through the problems in your own relationship. I know what the alternate reality looks like. Or at least I know what it looks like when it goes badly enough wrong for people to need a lawyer like me. As I say, it’s quite a good motivator. The grass is not always greener, and at least the frying pan is non-stick.

Actually, as Joni once sang, the frying pan has been a bit too wide lately. Because for ten days last month I was the sole responsible adult at home, as my other half had to fly abroad to be with family. In fact, it isn’t that unusual for us to be apart, as I am often away with work (and have largely. been away since he got back). But when I’m away all I have to worry about is work – I know that he’s there sorting everything out. And that when I get home late he will have plated up some soul food, because he knows I will only have eaten crap on the train. This trip to the states was the first time that he has been away without me for more than a couple of days, and when I’ve been left home alone with the dog and kids for such a sustained period. In fact, it is the longest we have ever spent apart since we met in 1998.

I grumble often about all the things my husband doesn’t do whilst I’m at work. I often have to internally tell myself off for thinking like some sort of throwback husband: ‘What on earth does s/he do all day while I’m bread-winning?’. But this stint was a useful reminder that a lot of the things I take for granted are not in fact the work of the fairies. Because I checked everywhere: there are no fairies. Just me. To shop, tidy, clean, feed, walk, ferry, visit, console, liase, cajole, sort, dispose of and occasionally touch in with the day job.

I’ll be honest, as the day of his outbound flight arrived I was slightly bricking it. Many working parents are juggling this stuff day in day out, but in our household things work (just) because there are two of us and we divide things up. Being responsible for all of it and having no wingman is daunting. In fact I did alright – we were all still alive and speaking  when he got back – but I was knackered. And it was only just over a week.

Anyway, the point is this: I have a revived appreciation of my lovely husband. Behind every newly minted KC is a very tired Mr KC.

Actually, that isn’t the point. The real point is that I missed him like hell. We have our different roles in the house, our different strengths and weaknesses (he never cleans the loo, I overload the dishwasher), and each of us does things that annoy the hell out of the other (he says ‘Yes Maaam’ in a loud obnoxious voice because he knows it makes me mad, and I interrupt him alllll the time). But I missed him teasing, annoying and looking after me. Plus by day 8 I’d run out of easy recipes, and the food waste caddy was stinky and full.

Never let it be said divorce lawyers aren’t romantic.