Building a human rights framework for algorithmic justice

The studentship is designed to consider a new governance structure that sufficiently regulates the new technologies of algorithmic risk predictions in criminal justice in a way that officials can gain their advantages while reasonably honouring human rights law. 

Start date

1 July 2021


3 years plus 1 year writing up. Please note that the funding only covers the first three years and not the writing up year.

Application deadline

Funding source

The University of Surrey, Project-led Studentship Award.

Funding information

Funding covers: 

  • Full UK/EU tuition fee 
  • Stipend at £15,285 p.a. (2020/21) 
  • RTSG of £1,000 p.a. 
  • Personal Computer (provided by the department) 


Algorithmic risk assessment practices represent a criminal justice reform across the globe. An algorithm simply represents a mathematical calculation that predicts an individual’s likelihood of reoffending. Algorithmic risk decision-making employs an interdisciplinary, progressive approach to criminal justice by drawing upon expertise in law, philosophy, forensic psychology, criminology, and computer science. Algorithmic models represent evidence-based practices in relying upon scientific studies of big data which test factors that predict recidivism.  

Algorithmic risk tools take advantage of improvements in computing and the availability of big data to better automate the risk assessment process. These tools offer officials the ability to efficiently, objectively, and transparently evaluate their populations to distinguish high and low risk individuals, and then to manage them accordingly.  

Nonetheless, the algorithmic turn presents novel legal and ethical issues and thus is ahead of the rule of law’s ability to govern it. Authorities are raising concerns that algorithmic risk practices threaten human rights: 1. Equality:  Algorithmic risk tools may be biased against protected groups (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender) as researchers are becoming aware of the various ways that bias can enter or be amplified by automated risk tools. 2. Justice: Algorithmic predictions of high risk may undermine the presumption of innocence and reliance upon these automated outcomes may substantially displace the role of meaningful human input into decisions that have significant consequences to individuals. 3. Human dignity: Algorithmic justice may treat individuals as statistical objects rather than moral subjects and undermines their right to an explanation as to how and why a decision that impacts their lives has been made. 

The time is ripe for this project. The Science and Technology Committee of the (UK) House of Commons recently recognized that automated decisions such as these are outpacing the development of frameworks to conceptualise and regulate them. 

The primary supervisor Dr. Melissa Hamilton holds an advanced degree in law and a doctorate in criminology. The secondary supervisor Dr. Ambrose Lee holds a doctorate in philosophy.  

Eligibility criteria

Applicants may approach the project with their own research questions as relevant to the theme. Applicants from a variety of academic disciplines are invited to apply. Sufficient experience and knowledge in criminal justice, law, and human rights are necessary attributes. Statistical skills and familiarity with algorithmic science would be beneficial. 
Applicants should hold a First Class or good Upper Second Class Honours degree, along with a Masters degree at a minimum of a merit level in Law, or other relevant discipline, from an approved university. Applications should show the ability for self-direction, excellent writing skills, and time management skills.

IELTS requirements: 7.0 or above (or equivalent) with 6.5 in each individual category. 

UK, EU or overseas students are welcomed to apply but please note that the tuition fee waiver only applies to the UK/EU tuition fees and does not cover the difference between that and the overseas tuition fee.   

How to apply

To apply for this studentship: 

  1. Firstly apply for the Law PhD Programme.
  2. During your application, please mention your desire to apply to this studentship in order to be considered. 
  3. When the system asks you to add your ‘Research Project’ please copy and paste the project description previously provided under the ‘About’ tab.  
  4. You will need to provide transcripts for all HE qualifications and CV. 
  5. You will need to submit a research proposal that also includes an explanation of how your proposed research is relevant to the research project of this studentship. 

Interviews will be held shortly after the application deadline.  


Application deadline


Studentships at Surrey

We have a wide range of studentship opportunities available.