Center for Interdisziplinary Research

ZiF Workshop

Models of Rational Proof in Criminal Law

Date: 28 - 30 September 2015

Convenors: Floris Bex (Utrecht, NED), Anne Ruth Mackor (Groningen, NED), Henry Prakken (Utrecht, NED)

The aim of this workshop was to study legal proof and evidence from an interdisciplinary perspective, by discussing computational, legal and cognitive models of proof with attendants from a wide variety of fields including psychology, philosophy, artificial intelligence and law.

In a legal context, the study of evidence is often equated with the study of the law of evidence, the legal rules that govern the admissibility and use of evidence in court. However, the study of evidence should also include the study of rational proof, the reasoning about the facts of a case. There are three important approaches to rational proof: arguments, statistics and narratives. The aim of the workshop was to compare and integrate these three approaches to rational proof, and to discuss their characteristics from logical, statistical, psychological and legal perspectives. How do the different models of proof relate to each other, and how can they be combined? How cognitively feasible are statistical, narrative and argumentative ways of thinking for legal fact finders? And how feasible are the statistical, narrative and argumentative ways of thinking from a legal point of view? These were just some of the questions that we wanted to find tentative answers to at the workshop.

The workshop included a wide variety of speakers from all over Europe – Germany, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Sweden – who had travelled to Bielefeld to attend. Researchers and practitioners from the law spoke on rational proof in daily legal practice, cognitive scientists and mathematicians discussed the use of probabilistic Bayesian networks to capture reasoning with evidence, and researchers from artificial intelligence discussed logical models of narratives and arguments, and how these can be combined with probabilistic reasoning.

The excellent presentations and fruitful discussions have led to further advances towards a clear approach to legal proof, which is rationally well-founded, cognitively feasible, and which also respects the legal constraints of evidence and proof. The workshop was also very instrumental in community-building: future plans include more interdisciplinary workshops, joint analysis of a complete legal case and a special journal issue that includes the extended workshop contributions.


Diederik Aben (Den Haag, NED), Henry Brighton (Berlin, GER), Christian Dahlman (Lund, SWE), Ulrike Hahn (London, GBR), Jelte Hielkema (Groningen, NED), Jeroen Keppens (London, GBR), David Lagnado (London, GBR), Martin Neil (London, GBR), Paul Roberts (Nottingham, GBR), Mirnah M. Scholten (Groningen, NED), Marjan Sjerps (Amsterdam, NED), Lonneke Stevens (Amsterdam, NED), Bart Verheij (Groningen, NED), Marion Vorms (Paris, FRA), Thomas Weigend (Köln, GER), Frank Zenker (Lund, SWE)

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