AI Use in English Courts

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A Historic Leap into the Future

The English legal system – infused with historic traditions and precedents spanning over a thousand years – is now cautiously stepping into a technologically advanced future. 

England and Wales follow a common law system that incorporates both the enactment of statutes and the development of precedents through case law. Legislation is passed by Parliament, comprising the Monarch, the House of Commons, and the House of Lords, which establishes the legal framework.

Recently, a revolutionary advancement in the legal profession has occurred: the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary in England have enabled judges to draft rulings using artificial intelligence (AI). 

This step, announced in January 2024, signified a particularly significant shift for a profession frequently characterised by resistance to swift technological advancement.

Over centuries, the English judiciary has focused on meticulous approaches grounded in precedents and careful interpretation of laws. 

This step towards adopting AI technology in draft rulings is, in a sense, a quiet revolution, marking a dramatic change in the profession’s institutional nature.

AI – Friend or Foe?

AI technologies are being extensively debated across various quarters in the legal industry. The discussions range from the potential replacement of lawyers by AI, the role AI may play in juror selection, or even AI’s capability to make judicial decisions independently.

The English judiciary has always been cautious when approaching AI technology. This careful approach can be considered a progressive measure to address the various fears related to AI while acknowledging its potential benefits to the legal system. 

This strategic caution represents the judiciary’s desire to stride forward without compromising the spirit of the law or longstanding legal traditions. 

Monitoring AI Usage in Courts

The judiciary’s decision to allow the utilisation of AI has stirred robust public conversations regarding how this technology should be regulated within the legal profession. Scholars like Ryan Abbott, a law professor at the University of Surrey and author of “The Reasonable Robot: Artificial Intelligence and the Law,” have noted peoples’ concerns about AI’s involvement in the court system.

Many within the industry have applauded the judiciary’s approach, which they view as a positive acknowledgement of AI advancements. These guidelines are predicted to be closely followed by courts and legal professionals worldwide, whether they are eager to harness AI in their circumstances or simply wary of potential ramifications.

The International Stance on AI in Law

The Council of Europe’s European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice issued an ethical charter on using AI in judicial systems half a decade ago. Although the document doesn’t cover the latest AI advancements, its fundamental risk mitigation and accountability principles remain relevant.

In contrast, U.S. federal court guidance on using AI is yet to be established, with individual courts and judges at both local and federal levels setting their discretionary rules. England and Wales, on the other hand, sets a precedent on AI-related guidelines in the English language, providing a useful starting point for other common law jurisdictions.

The Promise and Perils of AI in Legal Proceedings

While judiciary guidance suggests acceptance of AI technology in courts, it is not blind to the potential pitfalls. The concern isn’t about replacing human thought in legal processes but ensuring technology support doesn’t undermine accountability. Critics of the guidelines, like Giulia Gentile from Essex Law School, have pointed out that the document permits judges to use AI without disclosing it.

The guidelines wisely raise issues about certain AI limitations, especially privacy concerns when using AI tools. For example, the document warns against using AI chatbots that may inadvertently interfere with private or confidential conversations.

AI’s Role in Legal Proceedings

AI can be a powerful aid for judges handling large caseloads and positively influence areas such as drafting background material or collating known information. However, the guidelines wisely iterate that AI should not be used to source fresh, unverifiable data and cannot currently supply credible reasoning.

As advancements in AI continue to roll out in the coming years, the judicial system’s approach balances the need to embrace technological advancements without threatening the sanctity and integrity of the legal institution.