Have you ever wondered how so many aspects of our lives have been impacted by artificial intelligence? AI software programs like Chat GPT can help save human productivity across a variety of fields, including the legal system. However, AI can potentially pose a sizable number of cyber threats in the legal sector. When exposed to hacking or phishing, client’s information, crucial case information, as well as the names of the victims in sensitive cases (for example, a woman’s or child’s name in rape cases), can be in danger. Other dangers resulting from pattern learning and data inputs to AI include biased judgments, opacity, and unaccountability. In many legal systems throughout the world, the use of AI systems to offer aid in the investigation and decision-making processes can help reduce case backlogs and allow speedy decision-making, even though the judge or jury must ultimately decide a case.
The importance and need for AI in the Indian judiciary stem from the fact that, according to the recent National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), 4,26,53,360 cases are pending at the district and taluka levels, and 60,65,840 are still unresolved at the high courts.
- As far as automatic decision-making is concerned, in a first of its kind in India, the Punjab and Haryana High Court recently took assistance from Chat GPT for assessing the worldwide view for bail in cases where the assault was accompanied by cruelty.
- Another example of using AI in India is in the form of the “eCourts Services” app, which assists us in getting information regarding district and taluka courts in India, where we can get our ‘case status, cause list, FIR number, party name, advocate, and act information.’
- Just like NALSA (National Legal Services Authority), an initiative to provide free legal aid to weaker sections of society, the Indian government in 2018 launched an AI-powered platform called “Tele-Law” to provide legal aid services to rural citizens. The Department of Justice has partnered with NALSA and CSC e-Governance Service India Limited to provide mainstream legal aid to marginalized communities through the Common Services Centre (CSC). It includes the use of communications and information technology for the delivery of legal information and advice using video conferencing or other infrastructure available at CSC.
- In 2021, the Supreme Court launched the Supreme Court Portal for Assistance in Court’s Efficiency (SUPACE), which makes important facts and information regarding laws relevant to cases available to judges.
- Virtual hearings of cases can also be a boon for the digitization of courts, enabling litigants and their clients to join from any part of the country, thus eliminating delays in justice delivery.
- In the case of Krishna Veni Nagam v. Harish Nagam (2017), the Supreme Court permitted virtual hearings of matrimonial cases wherever the defendants or respondents are located outside the jurisdiction of the court.
- In another case, Swapnil Tripathi v. Supreme Court of India (2018), the Supreme Court allowed the live streaming of cases with national and constitutional significance.
In the second aforesaid case, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar opined, “Indeed, the right of access to justice flowing from Article 21 of the Constitution, or be it the concept of justice at the doorstep, would be meaningful only if the public got access to the proceedings as they would unfold before the courts, and in particular, the opportunity to witness live proceedings in respect of matters having an impact on the public at large or on a section of people. This would educate them about the issues that come up for consideration before the Court on a real-time basis.”
National Policy and Action Plan for Implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Indian Judiciary
This goal envisions the transformation of Indian courts to help them take proper decisions with the help of artificial intelligence, thereby enhancing the productivity of judges. It is a very significant and conspicuous step in the ICT enablement of Indian courts.
On the recommendation of former Chief Justice of India RC Lahoti, an E-Committee was formed in 2004 under the chairmanship of Dr. Justice G.C. Bharuka, which made the formulation of this policy possible.
One of the critical requirements of this policy is that “uniformity in the use of the software at various court complexes shall render the functioning of the judicial system more coherent and in synchronization.”
Under this policy, the E-Courts Mission Mode Project was formed for district and subordinate courts and has been functioning in two phases since 2007.
The National Judicial Data Grid, an online platform that houses a database of orders, judgments, and case information for 18,735 District and Subordinate Courts and High Courts, was created as part of the E-Courts Project. On this portal, one may also get information regarding the status of cases in district, taluka, and high courts.
International efforts towards opting for artificial intelligence in the judiciary
- China: A court in the city of Hangzhou, located south of Shanghai, started employing AI in 2019. The judge’s assistant program, called Xiao Zhi 3.0, or “Little Wisdom,” first assisted in a trial of 10 people who had failed to repay bank loans.
- The Chinese government aims to develop a competent artificial intelligence system by 2025 to provide all-around AI support in efforts to improve legal services and uphold justice. This requirement was embedded in the “Overall Objectives” of “Opinions on Regulating and Strengthening the Application of Artificial Intelligence in Judicial Fields,” a guideline issued by the Supreme People’s Court, China’s top court.
- United States of America: Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS) is a tool used by US courts to assess the potentiality of a defendant continuously committing a crime even after being punished (recidivism). Although the correctness of this tool is widely contested, it was a step in the right direction and the first of its kind.
- United Kingdom: HART (Harm Assessment Risk Tool) is a tool that helps UK police take important decisions regarding the custody of a person. Again, the accuracy of this tool is said to be against poor people, but with improvement, it can be a wondrous experiment.
- Do Not Pay AI Lawyer: The DoNotPay Company marked a first by making AI lawyers a reality. A downloadable AI chatbot developed to help people with minor legal issues is available in the US and the UK.
As a generalization, we might state that these AI tools cannot be completely trusted when used in the judicial system. They frequently exhibit prejudices against one part of society over another, which makes them a poor current choice for the judiciary. But if they are enhanced and improved, they could represent a significant advancement in the realm of justice.
Threats that artificial intelligence poses to the judiciary: Addressing the elephant in the room
Most of us are familiar with the threats that AI poses in our lives, and threats in the field of the judiciary are mostly similar to the general ones, but there might be some that are important to highlight here:
- Breach of data: The legal field requires handling some critical information that, if breached, can cause a great loss of the privacy of clients.
- Biases: Human biases are well documented, but what if machines—which we refer to as “something that never lies”—were also programmed to produce different outcomes for certain social groups? It can cause a huge impairment to the justice delivery system when we highlight equality as a basic factor in the judiciary.
- Difficulty in interpretation: In the field of the judiciary, new types of cases and issues continue to emerge that offer different scenarios to judges and lawyers, requiring their active human intellect and thinking, whereas machines can only recognize patterns existing in a system and work on that basis, which is known as “machine learning.”
- Lack of public support: The success of the introduction of every new technology depends on public backing. Judges have often demonstrated that they are an important element involved in providing justice to a person, which is not the case with AI tools, where machines provide us with a result based on their pre-determined input, making them an unfavourable option for people in general.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to benefit humankind in many areas, including the judiciary. However, as of now, AI has produced unfavourable results in this area, making it less than fully implementable. Due to its lack of human-like intelligence, artificial intelligence (AI) cannot fully replace judges and attorneys; it can only offer recommendations to enhance the standard of decision-making in this area. The ethical and practical ramifications of using AI in courtrooms will need to be carefully considered by legal practitioners as the technology develops and evolves. A more just and equitable legal system for all can be achieved in the long run through the appropriate and successful integration of AI in the judiciary.
Author(s) Name: Akshat Sharma (Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar)