Lawyers outraged over the use of AI in court to assist judges in making decisions about legal cases
Since its inception, artificial intelligence (AI) has disrupted many industries including agriculture, technology, health, automation, fintech, among others. However, the use of AI continues to be resisted in one field–the legal profession. Over the years, there are a lot of debates about whether AI can do a better job than traditional lawyers.
The legal services industry is one of the antiquated industries that is ripe for disruption and innovative technology. For decades, lawyers have been immune from disruptive change. However, that may be about to change. In 2018, we wrote about how 20 top lawyers were beaten by legal AI. In a controlled study carried out with leading legal academics and experts, 20 experienced US-trained lawyers were pitted against the LawGeex Artificial Intelligence algorithm.
The study shows that lawyers are no match for AI. In the landmark study, LawGeex AI achieves an average 94% accuracy rate, higher than the lawyers who achieved an average rate of 85%. However, it took the lawyers an average of 92 minutes to complete the NDA issue spotting, compared to 26 seconds for the LawGeex AI. The longest time taken by a lawyer to complete the test was 156 minutes, and the shortest time was 51 minutes. The study was a wake-up call for lawyers as the news of the defeat made waves around the world and was covered across global media.
Fast forward four years later, governments around the world are now piloting the use of AI to assist and augment judges in making decisions about legal cases. An example of that is the country of Malaysia. Malaysian lawyers said the use of an AI system in the country’s justice system is “unconstitutional” and claim that no one really understands how it works.
The disagreement over the use of AI came after courts in two Malaysian states launched a test program to use AI to assist judges in delivering sentences for convicted drug dealers and rapists.
The AI software was developed by the state government firm Sarawak Information Systems. The software was first introduced in 2020 to two courts in Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo as part of a pilot program to examine the efficiency of artificial intelligence in sentencing recommendations. The test, which is still ongoing, was set to end in April 2022.
According to Reuters, the court in Sabah was the first in Malaysia to use AI to help deliver a court sentence when it convicted two men for drug possession in 2020.
However, Hadid Ismail, a lawyer with 20 years of experience who represented the defendants, disagreed with the sentence, claiming that the system was being used before judges, lawyers and the public even got a chance to fully understand it and the way it worked.
“Our Criminal Procedure Code does not provide for use of AI in the courts… I think it’s unconstitutional,” Ismail told Reuters. “In sentencing, judges don’t just look at the facts of the case – they also consider mitigating factors, and use their discretion. But AI cannot use discretion,” he said, adding that the sentence given by the AI to one of his clients for minor drug possession was too harsh – 12 months in jail for possession of 0.01 gram of methamphetamine.
Malaysia’s Bar Council, which represents lawyers, has also voiced its frustration with the AI pilot program. After courts in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, started testing the system in mid-2021 to suggest sentences for 20 types of crimes, the council said it was “not given guidelines at all, and we had no opportunity to get feedback from criminal law practitioners.”
Khazanah Research Institute, a Malaysian think tank, also filed a report on the system in 2020, arguing that the mitigating measures installed in the AI software, like removing race as a variable, didn’t succeed in making the system perfect. They also noted that the system was “somewhat limited in comparison with the extensive databases used in global efforts” as the AI algorithm was only trained using a dataset of five years from 2014 to 2019.
A spokesperson for the Federal Court Chief Justice stated that the use of artificial intelligence in courts was “still in the experimental stage” but declined to comment any further on the operation of the system.