Will physical court hearings be the place that the legal industry first feels the truly disruptive and transformative effects of technology?
It’s a question Richard Susskind addresses in his new book Online Courts and the Future of Justice.
The pandemic has already seen the rise of virtual courts, but he believes this could go further, perhaps increasingly aided by AI.
Already quite a lot of arbitrations are settled without such hearings, with evidence and arguments submitted in document form, and with the final judgement delivered in the same way.
Lawyers argue that no machine can ever do what a barrister does, standing up in court and delivering a great closing argument.
“Until singularity that won’t be possible. But that doesn’t mean you are safe until then, because what we are also seeing is that technology is giving rise to a system where oral hearings are going to be almost eliminated,” he says.
The current generation of AI, based on data and machine learning “essentially analyses huge amounts of data, finds patterns, regularities and on that basis makes predictions.”
It will never be 100% perfect. But in a country like Brazil where there is a massive backlog of litigation cases, having a system that analyses past decisions and comes up with a prediction of how the case will be decided which is 95% accurate or higher may do much to improve access to justice.
We do not understand all the underlying reasons a judge reaches a decision, but we trust the judgement. That’s partly because humans can explain their recommendations by reference to a commonly accepted body of knowledge. Machines don’t, yet, do that.
Does that mean we should mistrust them and refuse to use them? Maybe not, he says.
“In access to justice terms…if maybe 1% of the decisions aren’t right, I am not sure that matters, in overall, utilitarian terms,” he says. “Although it is not perfect, it seems to be a case of good enough is often good enough.”
An interview with Professor Richard Susskind,
Author, speaker and independent adviser