China has made great efforts trying to integrate artificial intelligence to help with their everyday lives, and legal services is one of the many sectors that China is hoping to transform with AI technology. Its growing number of internet-based businesses along with 850 million internet users have led to the emergence of Chinese digital courts.
The world’s first internet court was established in 2017, in the eastern city of Hangzhou – an emerging technology and e-commerce hub -, and one of the most prosperous cities in Zhejiang Province, mainland China.
Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the Chinese internet courts, now include millions of legal cases decided by “smart courts.” The system aims to enable users to complete judicial procedures and allows for communication through text and messaging services. Legal cases can be registered on the internet and there is no need for citizens to appear in court.
In December 2019, the country’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) released a report on the court’s activities: more than 3.1 million legal activities have been handled from March to October, and 1.16 million citizens have registered, along with 73,200 lawyers.
The purpose of AI in legal cases is to ease the workload of humans at a fast pace and with higher accuracy, while human judges observe the process and make major rulings. The smart courts in Hangzhou only deal with cases involving legal disputes over digital matters like internet trade concerns, copyright issues and online product sales.
Following the success in Hangzhou, China launched similar operations in Beijing and Guangzhou. More than 90 percent of the courts nationwide are now using some form of online tools to help with cases.
The “mobile micro courts,” a pilot project designed to offer “one-stop services” like filing, hearing, mediation and evidence exchanges was launched at the beginning of last year, in 12 provincial-level regions, according to SPC.
On June 27, 2019 Beijing Internet Court has launched an online litigation service centre, claimed to be “the first of its kind in the world,” to bring AI judges to court.
The AI judge has a body, facial expressions, voice, and actions all modelled off one of the court’s female judges. Based on intelligent speech and image synthesizing technologies, the AI judge’s role is to help the court judges complete “repetitive basic work” like litigation and online guidance.
The online service centre also includes a mobile micro court which deals with filing, mediation, court hearings, and inquiries through mobile phones, as well as an official Weitao account, which allows for live communication and legal publicity.
Since then, many countries have implemented artificial intelligence to help with legal services. Estonia could soon be using AI judges “to clear court backlogs by adjudicating in small claims of up to £7,000,” according to a Telegraph report released last month. The same report claimed that “robot judges will be commonplace in the UK within 50 years.”
Terence Mauri, an expert in AI and the founder of Hack Future Lab, a global think tank based in London, said these virtual judges will be able to detect dishonesty “with 99.9 percent accuracy,” at an unprecedented speed, and human bias or error will become a thing of the past. This will lead to “far less” innocent people being convicted for a crime they did not commit.
He also predicted that senior judges, barristers and solicitor advocates will survive the process, while other legal roles – including solicitors, chartered legal executives, paralegals, legal secretaries, and court clerks, won’t. They risk being replaced by AI.