AI ‘can be a force for good’, says top judge

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By Rhys Duncan on


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One of the UK’s top judges has said that artificial intelligence (AI) “can and should be a force for good” within the justice system.

Delivering his ‘Future Visions of Justice‘ speech last week at King’s College London Law School, Lord Justice Birss outlined a range modern tech already in use within the justice system, whilst also offering his thoughts on the future and the role that AI may have.

“My own view is that AI used properly has the potential to enhance the work of lawyers and judges enormously,” he said, before adding, “I think it will democratise legal help for unrepresented people.”

“I think it can and should be a force for good. And I think it will be as long as it is done properly and appropriately,” Birss LJ continued.

Three key uses of AI were identified by the metallurgy and materials sciences graduate.
First, already mentioned, is the potential for AI to democratise legal advice and assistance. Whilst it may not be entirely accurate or foolproof, studies suggest it is more useful and accurate than an internet search, with the potential for further progression, Birss LJ noted.

Alongside this, there are also uses in providing case summaries to judges, which again do not require complete accuracy, but instead offer an initial outline and guide, and in large scale document review.

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A number of law firms are already using AI tools for these purposes, with both Macfarlanes and Allen & Overy employing AI bot ‘Harvey’ to assist their lawyers.

The growth in AI won’t necessarily mark the end for lawyers, however. “The fact that something can be done does not always mean it should be done,” Birss LJ continued. “When one thinks about the rule of law and access to justice, a critical aspect is public trust in the legal system itself. I can’t imagine a legal system which does not have people at its heart as key representatives and decision makers.”

Elsewhere in his speech the top judge noted a range of other modern tech already in use within the justice system, most notably automatic algorithms in certain civil debt claims. Whilst the old system gave an algorithm for people to apply in particular cases to determine payment plans, the new system does the same thing, only automatically and digitally.

“The safeguard was and remains that anyone dissatisfied with the order made as a result of applying the formula is entitled to apply to a judge.” he said. “As far as I know this is caused no difficulty of any sort and attracted very little comment.”

There has also been a shift to paperless cases, which, despite some “initial minor teething troubles of a technical nature”, has worked “extremely well”, and digital work allocation for judges.

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