e-Justice – from a fictional robot judge to practical application

In 2019 Wired magazine caused a small storm by reporting that tech-savvy Estonia would be trusting an AI judge to oversee certain court proceedings. Some people would instantly imagine a robot judge in a robe and wig, passing sentence. Fortunately, others would like to know about a more realistic scenario.

In this brief article, you will find out more about how e-justice can be delivered in a series of practical steps and which tasks are left for the machines. This is so much more than just science fiction.

But before we dump the case files on the AI judge’s desk, let’s look at what Estonia is doing to automate court proceedings. After all, Estonian courts are among the top in Europe based on the speed of decision making. Thanks to automated and digitally supported case management, the efficiency of Estonian courts was largely not affected by restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Courts were able to process cases even when judges and clerks were working from home.

Reducing the workload of courts leads to better transparency

Using information technology in a smart way will significantly contribute towards the improved efficiency of courts and help manage cases more smoothly in various ways. We’ve written about the general possibilities of the “AI judge” before, however, what exactly would be the practical applications?

Automated processes (also applying AI where possible) reduce the duration of proceedings, but also ease the workload for judges and supporting staff by automatically generating, for example, transcripts. Features like real-time monitoring of case data with the help of dashboards, ensure timely processing of all cases. Thesauruses and advanced search options improve the consistency in judicial practice. Another intelligent example that helps with sharing the burden among judges, is automatic case allocation, based on existing workload and avoiding possible conflicts of interest and support specialisation of judges.

Delivering justice via online access for all stakeholders is the standard feature of a Case Management System, containing information about hearings and judgments. Online portals allow access to case documents and even evidence to authorised users such as participants in the proceedings. These features, while sounding simple, would seriously disrupt any justice system for the better, by providing better accessibility, increased transparency and streamlined processes.

Lessons from the field: tech vs policy + the human factor

At Net Group we’ve learned from our extensive experience with international projects that successful application of e-justice is less about software and more about the redesign of business processes. If necessary, analysis and redesign of regulatory frameworks is required, too. Most importantly, people using these tools on a daily basis, must be empowered and well informed.

Let us introduce some of the lessons learned while working on projects to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the judicial process:

  • For the e-justice project in Tanzania we mapped all the current business process and their regulatory framework. This is where all the opportunities for simplifying business processes as well as potential obstacles are. The next step would be to develop a framework for monitoring. This is for tracking the course of implementation and keeping an eye on achieving the objectives.
  • In Estonia, we’ve built specific software products that help support better and quicker court proceedings. Automatic generation of standard court documents, smart dashboards and advanced algorithms for automatic case allocation all minimise the need for manual work and allow the judges and clerks to devote more time to actual judicial processes. Putting the client first – the system is accessible for all parties 24/7 through an online portal, while fully complying with access restrictions established by the legal framework. It’s important to also ensure that software fits into the respective environment – be it legal, procedural, cultural or linguistic.
  • Software alone is not enough – the product also needs proper change management and support for successful implementation. In Kurdistan, for example, we provided a turnkey solution and added training for judicial institutions, on-site support, and further development based on user feedback.

But again, when will the AI judge be in session?

Today’s success will be just a memory tomorrow. At Net Group we are focused on researching and identifying the tools that will drive the efficiency and transparency of judiciaries through the 21st century and beyond. It’s quite clear that there won’t be a future without artificial intelligence. However, before we can give different court proceedings over to the AI, we must address data security first and, of course, the seemingly endless questions of ethics. Yet, there are many basic decision-making steps, where AI powered algorithms can improve and speed up our case management processes already today.

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