On November 2019 COHUBICOL held its first Philosophers’ Seminar, bringing together lawyers, computer scientists and philosophers to discuss and share ideas on text-driven normativity (TDN). The point of departure of this project is that the current mode of existence of law is text-driven: law lives in and through text, its past and futures are ostensibly bound in the written word (even oral arguments in court are ultimately reified in the text of precedent).

This seems axiomatic, almost to the point that we forget that text is just one of many technologies and need not necessarily be the medium through which law and legal practice exist. Indeed, we are beginning to see law’s normative force being transformed by software code, via ‘smart contracts’ or other self-executing software artefacts that may in turn utilise machine learning-based decisions as inputs. Further, on a meta level legal practice is itself becoming data driven: machine learning algorithms process the textual ‘data’ of law to predict the outcome of litigation, those forecasts in turn guiding the development of caselaw. This raises the question of data-driven and code-driven normativity (DDN and CDN) and how it compares to TDN.

Law has relied on printed text for c. 500 years, during which its characteristics and institutions have developed around the particular affordances of that medium. But what are those affordances in terms of the kind of normativity they enable, and how might this normativity change as these alternative modes of practice start to take shape? The changes might be profound, and the timeline significantly compressed – jurimetrics has existed for c. 40 years, smart contracting for perhaps a decade. We must anticipate these changes and their potential ‘disruption’ before they are wrought, if we are to ensure that their implications are compatible with the normative underpinnings of law-as-we-know-it.

The underlying assumption of the COHUBICOL project is that printed text makes interpretation the hallmark of modern positive law, while the multi-stability of such interpretation invites and enables reiterant contestation. This is how text-driven law connects with the contestability that is core to law and the Rule of Law.

To achieve a proper understanding of those implications COHUBICOL will bring together the expertise of lawyers, philosophers, and computer scientists. The first objective, core to this year’s philosophers’ seminar, is an in-depth study of how and to what extent law and the Rule of Law depend on text-driven normativity.

The event was not streamed or recorded, and draft papers were not shared publicly but were submitted to our new Journal of Cross-disciplinary Research in Computational Law (CRCL) in the course of 2020, several of which have now been published under the Creative Commons BY-NC license of the journal.

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