Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Courting Artificial Intelligence

As Indian courts embrace new technology, concerns of ethics, privacy and bias creep in. How will the judicial system measure up to the challenge?

By Sanjay Raman Sinha

“Artificial Intelligence holds immense potential to transform the way legal professionals work. The full realisation of AI’s potential thus hinges on global collaboration and cooperation. While AI presents unprecedented opportunities, it also raises complex challenges, particularly concerning ethics, acc­ountability and bias.” 

These words of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud strike a prescient note. As the magic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) enthrals the world, Indian judiciary is not left out in being one of its votaries. 

As India strides towards digitization across sectors, its judiciary is also embracing AI to streamline processes, enhance efficiency and ensure swift justice delivery. It is also opening up new frontiers in human technology interface wherein AI can be used effectively in the justice delivery system. In a scenario where judges are saddled with enormous amount of workload and the plaintiffs bear the brunt of a snail-paced legal system, AI can be a boon. The integration of AI in the Indian judiciary is primarily focused on two key areas—case management and legal research.

In the area of case management, AI-powered tools are being employed to manage and process the vast amount of legal data in the Indian courts. These tools assist in case scheduling, document management, and data analysis, thereby reducing administrative burdens and enhancing the speed of proceedings. Legal research is the second area of activity. AI is revolutionizing legal research by offering advanced algorithms that can analyze and summarize legal texts, predict case outcomes and identify relevant precedents.

For instance, since 2021, the Supreme Court has adopted AI-based case management systems designed to process information and make it available to judges for decisions. The AI system, however, does not participate in the decision-making process. Another tool that is used by the Supreme Court is SUVAS (Supreme Court Vidhik Anuvaad Software) which translates legal papers from English into vernacular languages, and vice versa. Many platforms provide AI-driven legal research tools, empowering lawyers and judges with comprehensive insights facilitating informed decision-making.

How judges are becoming AI-savvy is brought out by the case of Jaswinder Singh vs State of Punjab. The case involved allegations of brutal assault. The Punjab and Haryana High Court rejected a bail petition of the accused. The judge used ChatGPT to research on granting of bail in cruelty case. The judge merely used it to gain a wider perspective on cruelty case bail verdicts and did not base his judgment on the ChatGPT input.

To deliberate on the usage of AI in the judicial processes, the Supreme Court has constituted an Artificial Intelligence Committee. The Committee has identified the application of AI technology primarily in the translation of judicial documents, legal research assistance and process automation.

The burgeoning adoption of AI within the Indian judiciary is characterized by several discernible trends. Firstly, there is a proliferation of AI-powered legal research platforms facilitating expedited access to legal precedents and statutes. Secondly, predictive analytics tools are gaining traction, enabling judges to forecast case outcomes based on historical data patterns. Moreover, AI-driven virtual assistants are being deployed to assist lawyers in drafting pleadings, thereby optimising legal workflows. The advent of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML) algorithms has given a fillip to the automation of routine legal tasks, thereby augmenting judicial efficiency.

Despite its potential benefits, the integration of AI in the Indian judiciary presents several challenges which the legal system is facing. Firstly, the issue of data quality and accessibility. The effectiveness of AI tools relies on the availability and quality of data. In India, disparate data sources, varying formats and issues related to data privacy pose significant challenges to AI implementation in the judiciary. Secondly, ethical and bias concerns also reign supreme. AI algorithms are susceptible to bias, which can perpetuate existing inequalities in the justice system. Ensuring fairness and transparency in AI-driven decision-making remains a critical concern for Indian courts.

Thirdly, there is the issue of skill gap. The successful adoption of AI requires a workforce equipped with the necessary technological skills. However, the legal fraternity in India often lacks proficiency in AI and data analytics, necessitating investments in training and capacity building. Amidst these challenges, the adoption of AI presents a compelling opportunity to streamline judicial processes and bolster access to justice.

The judiciary has been initiating moves to adopt AI in its workings. In 2022, the Delhi High Court launched an AI-powered research tool called “Nyaya Kaushal” to assist judges in legal research and case analysis. The tool utilizes NLP techniques to extract relevant information from legal documents and provide insightful recommendations.

In Maharashtra the E-Court project aims to digitize court processes and leverage AI for case management. The project integrates AI algorithms for case prioritization, re­source optimization and backlog reduction, thereby enhancing the efficiency of judicial proceedings.

Several AI-driven tools and methodologies are being deployed across Indian courts, including machine learning algorithms for case prediction, chatbots for legal assistance, and sentiment analysis for understanding public opinion on legal issues. The implementation of AI-based predictive analytics tools in select district courts has enabled judges to make informed decisions, thereby mitigating judicial backlog.

The adoption of AI in the judiciary is not unique to India and is gaining traction globally. Several foreign courts have embraced AI technologies to improve judicial efficiency and access to justice. Courts in the United States utilise AI for tasks, such as legal research, case management, and predictive analytics. The UK’s Judicial Executive Board has endorsed the use of AI tools for case management and decision support.

However, concerns pertaining to data privacy, bias in algorithmic decision-making, and technological infrastructure pose formidable hurdles. AI systems generally rely on large amounts of data to learn and make predictions. In fact, euphemistically speaking, the judiciary is considered one of the largest text processing industries Such data may include sensitive personal or financial information. This can create privacy issues as pointed out by the chief justice.

The government and the Supreme Court is in a proactive mode to keep up with the times. In December 2022, in reply to a starred question, the then Union law minister Kiren Rijiju stated in the Lok Sabha that AI and blockchain technology would be developed and procured from the best available technology in the market following the due process of procurement as stipulated by the government. He also stated the policy approved by the Supreme Court Committee for use of AI in process automation on the administrative side and also to handle complexities arising out of customary laws, local special laws, and the cases volumes.

At present, there are no laws in India with regard to regulating AI. The Ministry of Electronics and information Technology looks at AI-related policies. The Niti Ayog has propounded a set of seven AI principles, which include safety and dependability, equality, non-discrimination, privacy and security, transparency, protection and reinforcement of positive human values.

The incorporation of AI in the Indian judiciary represents a paradigm shift in the administration of justice. While the journey towards AI-enabled justice is fraught with challenges, the potential benefits—such as improved efficiency, accessibility, and fairness are immense. By embracing AI technologies, Indian courts can adapt to the demands of the digital age and ensure timely and equitable justice for all. 

As the chief justice aptly remarked, embracing AI with an open mind is essential to harness its full potential and transform the Indian judiciary into a beacon of technological innovation and judicial excellence.  


News Update