Timetable information in the Course Catalogue may be subject to change.

University Homepage
DRPS Homepage
DRPS Search
DRPS Contact
DRPS : Course Catalogue : Edinburgh Futures Institute : Edinburgh Futures Institute

Postgraduate Course: Democracy, Rights and the Rule of Law in the Data-Driven Society (fusion online) (EFIE11166)

Course Outline
SchoolEdinburgh Futures Institute CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
Course typeOnline Distance Learning AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits10 ECTS Credits5
SummaryThe data-driven society compels a new appreciation of relations between the three branches of government (i.e. the legislature, executive, and judiciary). This course will instil that appreciation by providing a brief introduction to the public law principles which govern decision-making in the public sector, their underlying political philosophy (why they are the way they are), and how certain results from the field of 'human factors' engineering suggest that the automation of government functions could fall foul of these principles. It will both stretch students' analytical powers and stimulate their imagination by encouraging them to develop their own responses to the challenges which AI and data pose to legitimacy, democracy, rights, and procedural justice.
Course description Traditionally, courts are seen to be the final arbiters of law's content and upholders of human rights and the rule of law. The democratic impulse of a society is channelled instead through deliberative assemblies of elected officials who, in turn, determine who governs and delegate power to various unelected officials to help them cope with the business of government. On the traditional view, courts function as a check on the power of these unelected officials. But the data-driven society raises certain questions about how courts are best to do this. Data-driven societies often replace unelected officials with unelectable AI systems. The principles of law forming what is called "administrative law" dictate how courts are to regulate the actions of government officials, and these principles (like due process) are likely to prohibit many uses of AI-including, crucially, beneficial ones.

The course will examine three ways in which the relationship between rights and democracy can be said to change in the wake of the data revolution: (i) the claims of the citizen expand, in both public and private domains, to encompass such relatively novel rights as those of data access, correction, and erasure; (ii) the power of the state also expands, along with the potential for its abuse, hence the conflict between rights and democracy intensifies; and (iii) the beneficial potential of data-driven applications in government forces a fresh appraisal of the relationship between rights and democracy. For example, when the tenets of due process require that government decision-making be 'rational,' even when beneficial data-driven algorithms employed by the state are 'irrational', by human standards, we have a conflict between rights (in the form of rights to due process) and democracy (in the form of elected officials authorising the use of data-driven technologies in the public service).

And it's just not clear that the pre-data paradigm of judicial review is adequate to resolve this conflict. The course will therefore provide an introduction to the principles of public law/judicial review (due process, etc.) and and interrogate the distinction between 'public' and 'private' power. It will also provide a basic introduction to key findings in 'human factors' engineering and human-computer interaction, which suggest that owing to the relationship public servants may develop with technology, automation of government functions may breach several public law principles. (3) Student learning experience. Students will hear brief lectures, interspersed with small-group and whole-cohort activities, including: Q&As concerning real court decisions from various jurisdictions to see how courts around the world are grappling with these issues; watching and/or hearing and commenting upon relevant videos and/or podcasts; and performing a mock consultancy brief. Learning in an innovative hybrid and intensive ('fusion') mode that brings together online and in-person students, students will work together to formulate principled policy positions on the issues canvassed in the course.

Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) - Online Fusion Course Delivery Information:

The Edinburgh Futures Institute will teach this course in a way that enables online and on-campus students to study together. This approach (our 'fusion' teaching model) offers students flexible and inclusive ways to study, and the ability to choose whether to be on-campus or online at the level of the individual course. It also opens up ways for diverse groups of students to study together regardless of geographical location. To enable this, the course will use technologies to record and live-stream student and staff participation during their teaching and learning activities. Students should note that their interactions may be recorded and live-streamed. There will, however, be options to control whether or not your video and audio are enabled.

As part of your course, you will need access to a personal computing device. Unless otherwise stated activities will be web browser based and as a minimum we recommend a device with a physical keyboard and screen that can access the internet.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  13
Course Start Semester 1
Course Start Date 18/09/2023
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 100 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 12, Online Activities 2, Formative Assessment Hours 2, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 2, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 82 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Summative Assessment:

The course will be assessed by means of the following assessment components:

1) 2000 Word Consultant's Report (30%)

This will be an advice written in response to a (mock) brief from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, which is considering automating some aspect of its processes. Students will be expected to identify potential pitfalls from both a public law and administration perspective, and provide an analysis and recommendation in terms of principles discussed in the course.

This is a group task, and each group will submit its own report. Each group will consist of 4 students. At least four pitfalls/issues will be present in the brief, and each issue will be of comparable gravity. Each member of the group will lead on one of those issues and be responsible for its drafting (400-500 words per issue), although all group members will be involved in its formulation, the report must read as an integrated document (with a combined total of no more than 2000 words), and the same mark will be given in respect of the finished product to each member of the group. It will be due at the end of the post-intensive 'application' phase (i.e. two weeks after the intensive phase) and accounts for 30% of the course mark.

2) 1500-2000 Word Essay (70%)

This will be a 'traditional' essay on one of 3-5 questions students can choose from. These will assess their comprehension of certain topics presented in the course and their ability to provide a critical response. The essay will be due three weeks after the intensive phase and accounts for 70% of the course mark.
Feedback Formative feedback will be provided in the immersive phase by the course organiser leading a Q&A session, who will help to shape student understandings of the core issues and the first collaborative activity (i.e. the YouTube-style video). Live formative feedback will also be provided on the YouTube presentations and the mock briefings/interviews, both during the intensive phase.

Written summative feedback will be provided on the individual essay and group report, following the post-intensive application phase. Three optional (online) drop-in sessions will be also be held in the post-intensive phase, one per week until submission of the final assessment.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate a mature understanding of key concepts, theories, and principles in the field of public and administrative law as they apply to the use of algorithms in the public sector.
  2. Be able to critically articulate how the advent of the data-driven state reshapes traditional concepts in political theory and public administration.
  3. Identify and analyse the complex trade-offs between different political norms and social values.
  4. Demonstrate a clear understanding of key concepts, theories, and applications in the field of 'human factors' engineering and human-computer interaction.
  5. Produce and clearly communicate for non-specialists a basic analysis and advisory output pertaining to the uptake of a data-driven technology.
Reading List
Getting Started:

Susskind, Jamie (2018) Future Politics (New York: OUP), chs. 9-13.

Swift, Adam (2019) Political Philosophy: A Beginners' Guide for Students and Politicians (Oxford: Polity Press), ch. 2.

Zerilli, John (2021) A Citizen's Guide to Artificial Intelligence (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), chs. 5 & 8.


Bailey, S.H. (2007) 'Judicial Review of Contracting Decisions,' Public Law [2007]: 444.

Cane, Peter et al. eds. Oxford Handbook of Comparative Administrative Law (New York: OUP), chs. 4-5, 23-24, 32, 41 & 44.

Daly, P. (2022) Understanding Administrative Law in the Common Law World (New York: OUP), chs. 1-4.

Goodwin, J. (2012) 'The Last Defence of Wednesbury,' Public Law [2012]: 445.

Hilson, C. (2002) 'Judicial Review, Policies and the Fettering of Discretion,' Public Law [2002]: 111.

Nehushtan, Y. (2017) 'The Non-Identical Twins in UK Public Law: Reasonableness and Proportionality,' Israel Law Review 50: 69.

Sales, Philip (2013) 'Rationality, Proportionality, and the Development of the Law,' Law Quarterly Review 129: 223.

Turner, I. (2008) 'Judicial Review, Irrationality and the Legitimacy of Merits Review,' Liverpool Law Review [2008]: 309.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Knowledge and Understanding:
- A critical understanding of a range of specialised theories, concepts and principles drawn from multiple disciplinary and practitioner perspectives.
- A critical awareness of current challenges and debates in an emerging research area involving multiple specialisms.

Applied Knowledge, Skills and Understanding:
- Ability to apply critical knowledge to concrete case studies, research outputs, applications and proposals.
- Ability to identify potential challenges in a case study or research output, as related to both design and use contexts.
- Ability to demonstrate originality and/or creativity, including in practice.

Generic Cognitive Skills:
- Development of original and creative responses to problems and issues.
- Capacity to critically review, consolidate and extend knowledge, skills, practices and thinking across disciplines, subjects, and sectors.
- Ability to deal with complex issues and make informed judgements in situations in the absence of complete or consistent data/information.

Communication, ICT, and Numeracy Skills:
- Communication, using appropriate methods, to a range of audiences with different levels of knowledge/expertise.
- Ability to articulate clear and well-justified advisory recommendations.

Autonomy, Accountability, and Working with Others:
- Skills to manage their own individual contribution to a group presentation or report.
- The ability to engage constructively and productively in critical debate.
- Management of complex ethical and professional issues and informed judgement on issues not addressed by current professional and/or ethical codes or practices.
KeywordsPublic Administration,Public Law,Due Process,Procedural Fairness,Human Factors,Human-Computer,EFI,PG
Course organiserDr John Zerilli
Course secretaryMiss Veronica Silvestre
Help & Information
Search DPTs and Courses
Degree Programmes
Browse DPTs
Humanities and Social Science
Science and Engineering
Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Other Information
Combined Course Timetable
Important Information