We are half way through the first decade of the twenty first century. We have well and truly entered the new millennium. However, when it comes to the courtroom, technology is yet to play a role in improving how justice is served.
Modern technology permits courts to improve the administration of justice, enhance efficiency, and even save money. Technology when used in judiciary solves problems and ensures justice is improved, and certainly, not hindered. The problem is finding safe and efficient technology with the added satisfaction of judiciary which is ultimately going to use such technology.
In this article, I provide an overview of how technologies like machine translation, speech recognition, big data, machine learning, A.I., and block chain can upgrade India’s courts and bridge the access to justice gap and improve efficiency.
Need of technology in the Indian judiciary
The main business of the judiciary is to hear and determine cases in a fair and timely manner at reasonable costs. In doing so, there are processes involved in the adjudication of those cases. These processes must be efficient, effective, and equitable. The processes must be efficient in the sense that they provide value for money. The resources so employed must be utilised in a non-wasteful manner such that their allocation and utilisation is optimized to the maximum extent possible.
The Indian judicial system desperately needs to find a way to bring legal cases to their conclusion in a more efficient and timely manner. Justice Krishna Iyer has said in his book ‘Law, Lawyers and Justice’ that our judicial system is 200 years behind compared to developed countries. The Former CJI Mr Lodha had also stated that the Indian Judiciary is terribly overloaded and the disposal of cases has virtually become uncontrolled.
The Supreme Court has 62,794 cases pending as on January 1, 2015, the data available for the 24 high courts and lower courts up to the year ending 2013 showed pendency of 44.5 lakh and a whopping 2.6 crore, respectively. Of the over 44 lakh cases pending in the high courts, 34,32,493 were civil and 10,23,739 were criminal cases. Most cases drag on for several years, without reaching a conclusion. The appointment of judges to vacant posts in various courts is just one of the issues that require immediate attention. In many cases, undertrials spend more time in jail than the period of punishment for their crime, if proved in court, would require. Litigants routinely miss court dates, causing hearings to get repeatedly postponed. A workaround to this could be to use technology to make the judicial process more streamlined.
“In many cases, undertrials spend more time in jail than the period of punishment for their crime, if proved in court, would require.”
Present day technology in Indian Courts
Computers were introduced in the Supreme Court of India and the High Courts in India in the year 1991-92, for office automation, maintenance of accounts and preparing the pay rolls.
The e-Courts portal has been one of the most significant steps taken for judicial reforms in the recent era. The e-Courts project provides for ICT (Information Communication Technology) to make our justice delivery system efficient, time bound, litigant centric, affordable, accessible, cost effective, transparent and accountable.
India’s first e-court was opened at the High Court of Judicature at Hyderabad in the year 2016 which is the common high court for the states of Andhra Pradesh. In the decade since its launch, it has made a vast trove of data available online, at no cost for users. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, a lot of important data points in the daily orders and judgments are in a text heavy format and are difficult to analyse.
Phase I of the e-Courts project approved in February 2007 with lay out of Rs. 935 crores were successfully completed on 31st March 2015, in which 14,249 sites were readied with Computer Server Rooms and Judicial Service Centers for filing cases along with hardware, LAN and installation of servers in each court complex to store the data of cases. More than 14,000 Judicial Officers were provided with laptops and hardware was installed with LAN in 13,436 Courts.
Phase-II, prepared by the e-Committee and approved by the Chief Justice of India on 8th January 2014 was sanctioned by the Government of India on 4th August 2015 at the cost of Rs. 1,670 crores for advanced computerization, ICT enablement, capacity building and digitization of Judiciary. The project also provides for additional installation of Video Conferencing infrastructure in courts and jails, and to move on for making provisions for Court trial by recording evidence by Video Conferencing based on software-based solutions with recording facility and document visualising.
Phase II of the Mission Mode e-Courts Project will end in the last quarter of 2018, paving a way for Phase III, in which we may see the implementation of new technologies such as 5G applications, artificial intelligence, ambient intelligence; augmented reality; machine translation; mobile collaboration; speech recognition, internet of things (IOT) etc., to achieve an efficient, predictable, transparent and accountable judiciary.
Phase III: Advanced technologies
SA Bobde, the Chief Justice of India said that the Supreme Court has proposed to introduce a system of AI would help in better administration of justice delivery. However, he made clear that people should not form the impression that the AI would ever replace the judges.
Artificial intelligence (AI), sometimes called machine intelligence, is intelligence demonstrated by machines. Thousands of cases that are fairly similar in nature are being filed each year. Through AI, judges can be equipped with enough information about the possible paths that the case could take to help in faster disposal of the case.
Data science and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are capable of assisting judges by predicting vital information regarding an ongoing case based on past cases of a similar nature. Several case details such as number of accused in a case, date of filing of the charge sheet, number of witnesses examined during evidence stage, witness turning hostile, reasons for adjournments, First Information Report (FIR) details, quantum of punishment, compensation granted etc. which are recorded in the daily orders and the final judgment can be used for this analysis. Analysis of these variables can help judges make better strategic decisions which can help reducing delays in a case.
“Data science and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are capable of assisting judges by predicting vital information regarding an ongoing case based on past cases of a similar nature.”
Big Data is a term used for voluminous and complex data that is used for producing various analytics, so in short it is just data that is so much and including everything like numbers, text, audio, video etc. that cannot be processed with conventional data processing systems. Indian precedents, judgements and jurisprudence definitely fall under this and the problems which arose are discussed below.
Firstly, regarding the collection and utilisation of big data. Machine learning inherently operates with large data-sets, informing the algorithm of the various correlations, patterns, and analyses of extensive and meticulous data sets is itself a complex process and needs to be taken care of step by step.
Secondly, inaccurate, incomplete, or antiquated data sets, to the personal bias of programmers designing AI-driven tools, seeping into the final product. AI is, thus, vulnerable to existing biases, and given the extent of its usage, it has the capacity to perpetuate these systemically, if it is deployed in an unregulated manner. Hence, it is very difficult for the programmer to deal with the data without expertise in the field of law.
Thirdly, in this transformative era it is difficult especially in the field of law as new amendments, dimensions, arguments, overruling precedents often happen and makes the job even more difficult.
Lastly, Privacy is also a big concern with this kind of technology building up and as Indian judges are habituated to traditional methods, using this new technology would worry them a bit.
“Privacy is also a big concern with this kind of technology building up and as Indian judges are habituated to traditional methods, using this new technology would worry them a bit.”
But, definitely overcoming these problems is not a big issue and can be solved through legislative conviction and active involvement of judiciary to get this technology which in turn helps in backing Artificial intelligence.
Currently, a certified translation of a legal judgment takes several months to complete. Afterwards, there is a significant delay between the publication of a judgment in the original language and the availability of its human translation into the other official language.
Initially, the goal of this work was to allow the court, during the few months when the official translation is pending, to publish automatically translated judgments and summaries with the appropriate caveat. Once the official translation would become available, the Court would replace the machine translations by the official ones. However, the high quality of the machine translation system obtained, developed and trained specifically for the courts opens further opportunities
Machine translations could be considered as first drafts for official translations that would only need to be revised before their publication. This procedure would thus reduce the delay between the publication of the decision in the original language and its official translation. It would also provide opportunities for saving on the cost of translation.
However, the judgements of Supreme Court are translated into nine regional languages of the country and uploaded on the court’s website. But using this technology it would be a lot easier for the courts to come up with these tasks.
Speech recognition is an interdisciplinary subfield of computational linguistics that develops methodologies and technologies that enables the recognition and translation of spoken language into text by computers.
Speech recognition helps in improving the productivity of Judiciary and corporate legal departments by supporting tasks such as streamline documentation efforts and reduce document turnaround ,minimize dependency on support staff, lower transcription costs, dedicate more time to understand clients and their problems, and focus on any important business that could cross a lawyer’s desk.
A block chain is, in the simplest of terms, a time-stamped series of immutable records of data that is managed by a cluster of computers not owned by any single entity. Each of these blocks of data (i.e. block) is secured and bound to each other using cryptographic principles (i.e. chain). Because a Blockchain does not exist in one place, it offers two distinct advantages over a central server: both broader access and greater security.
“Block chain will help address at least three chronic challenges in court recordkeeping: managing court judgments, warrants, and criminal histories.”
Block chain will help address at least three chronic challenges in court recordkeeping: managing court judgments, warrants, and criminal histories. With two-thirds of all civil cases pertaining to registration of property or land, the country’s policy think-tank is working with judiciary to find disruptive ways to expedite registrations, mutations and enable a system of smart transactions that is free of corruption and middlemen.
As long as poor people won’t get justice on time there is no real meaning of “JUSTICE, social, economic and political” mentioned in our preamble, Cases in the lower courts is where the root of the problem lies. Most importantly, we need to acknowledge it and monitor it on a continuing basis. Other than using advanced technology, the solution for this problem can be found in many ways like extending working hours, reducing public holidays, setting up more courts, appointing more judges, filling up the vacancies. Technology done right can bend time in ways we haven’t thought of. Technology can allow courts to adapt more quickly to changes in laws, society and demographics by taking advantage of configurable platforms, business rules engines and workflows.