Doing Justice with AI – The Financial Express

The Financial Express
By Rajesh Bansal and Revant Solanki
How times have changed in a matter of just two decades! If you remember banking in the 90s – we used to bank with one branch, which had to be changed with every shift in residence. You’d have to visit the branch to get your passbook updated, and for every other minor inconvenience. Going to the bank, standing in long lines while you waited to get work done meant a day off from work. The complications were many, and the experience – far from gratifying. Compare that with today’s banking experience – it’s all digital, which means you don’t have to even visit branches. It’s personalised, convenient, and fast! 
Digitalisation has made this possible. 
While digitalisation is the buzzword of the day, it has undeniably earned its stature. While banking is one example, the experience holds true of every industry – from retail to healthcare, manufacturing to governance. Digitalisation is a broad term for many technological advancements. Among these is ‘Emerging Technologies’ that is evolving to play a bigger role in our everyday lives. Emerging technologies are fast being introduced and used in various industries. However, one area of great potential for the same is the judiciary. 
It is a well-known fact that there is an ever-growing pile of pending cases in our courts. As a positive first step towards digitalisation, the courts have introduced an e-filing system. While the courts have also introduced virtual hearings that can drastically reduce court time-per-case, the need of the hour is a system that is designed for the finer niceties and workings of a Judicial Proceeding. As such, it is our belief that the judiciary needs a re-engineering and a ‘whole of judiciary’ approach to digitalization. One of the important tools that can be leveraged as part of this effort could be the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). It is important to state here that the use of AI does not come with the idea of replacing the human justice system, but to bring efficiency in the functioning of the justice system.
Several SC and HC judges have recognised the value and proposed that AI tools be introduced to enhance the efficiency of the justice delivery system – both in terms of quality and quantity. Currently, the courts have implemented two tools – Supreme Court Vidhik Anuvaad Software (SUVAS) and Supreme Court Portal for Assistance in Court’s Efficiency (SUPACE) in its systems: SUVAS is an AI-enabled translation tool for conversion of orders/judgments to vernacular languages, while SUPACE is being developed to function as an AI Research Assistant tool. Despite these, discussions around AI are still finding its place in the Indian legal circles on account of certain concerns. AI-driven outcomes are driven by limited data fed into it and lack the human element or ‘conscience’ required for the act of judging. 
In this context, I believe a good beginning point would be application of AI tools for resolution of cases under Section 138 in Negotiable Instrument (NI) Act, which deals with disputes relating to dishonor of cheques. Notwithstanding concerns relating to the ‘human element’ in AI/ML, deploying it in simpler NI Act cases can make for the perfect starting point for the judiciary’s journey with AI. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has earlier recognized the need to expedite proceedings in ‘dishonor of cheque’ cases where there are as many as 35 lakh pending cases at the Trial Courts, constituting more than 15% of the total criminal cases pending in the District Courts. And this is a figure that continues to rise. Cases under Section 138 of the NI act are more amenable to AI because the adjudication of these cases revolves on the examination of five simple legal questions: 
The first question requires an assessment on the authenticity of the cheque to ensure that there has been no evidence-tampering on part of the complainant. If the accused has not drawn the cheque, then he/she is not guilty. The second question is an assessment of whether the cheque is for the purposes of a legal debt or liability on part of the accused; this is of primary importance. The latter 3 questions do not require as thorough an assessment as the first two and are largely clerical in nature. Coupled with an e-filing system and document analysis tools [including Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for particular cases], AI can prove to be key in expediting such evidence assessment and can help our Courts save a lot of time in simple legal analyses.
As volume, variety, and accurate data are critical elements of building a successful AI engine, thousands of past judgements – already available in digitised form – could serve as a good guide. The adjudication platform would be an algorithmic system made on the basis of court decisions as well as statutory provisions and notifications relevant for legal analysis. 
Even at the pre-litigation stage, AI can play an instrumental role. Virtual agents or chatbots that leverage machine learning (ML) and an AI-engine can be installed in a central platform under the aegis of the Supreme Court. This tool can encourage litigants to opt for alternate dispute resolution mechanisms through a preliminary examination of the criteria entered by the litigants themselves. 
Having addressed the potential, one must also look out for drawbacks and loopholes.  With a system such as this, there are also pertinent questions on the independence and impartiality of it being consciously or unconsciously embedded with the values of its developers. While developing such a platform can be done through developers and experts in the field, the initiative of introducing AI in dispute resolution should be led by the judiciary itself. All activities, performance and evolution of the AI must be constantly reviewed and assessed by judicial authorities independently. Requisite guidelines must be formulated for its ethical framework as has been done in Europe. 
It is needless to say that decisions on AI will be subject to challenge and the litigant shall always reserve the right to take recourse to traditional courts. However, an argument can be made that this would eventually lead to more and more cases being directed to traditional courts itself and thus, increasing the pendency further.  Though such questions do act as a check on the usage of AI in Judiciary, greater thought should be given on how the use of advanced technological tools combined with our classic methods can be a big boost for the Indian legal ecosystem. Such an experiment would pave the way for large-scale digitalisation that fits into the narrative of a digital nation. The younger litigants would prefer to opt for alternative, affordable and technologically-advanced dispute resolution mechanisms, and will help resolve judicial pendency by ensuring a timely justice delivery system.
There is no doubt that emerging technologies will play an indispensable role in strengthening our country. While there are always concerns that arise with change, it is up to us to leverage potential, offset risks with checks, and deliver solutions that can truly impact change in a significant way. 
Author Rajesh Bansal is CEO, Reserve Bank Innovation Hub. He has nearly three decades of global experience in designing digital IDs, electronic payment products, and cash transfers, to enable inclusive development in multiple Asian and African markets. Author Revant Solanki is a lawyer in the Supreme Court of India.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.
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