Is the future of the judiciary artificial?

Is the future of the judiciary artificial?

On 19 April 2023, Sir Geoffrey Vos, Master of the Rolls, gave the Second Annual McNair Lecture. His topic was titled “The future of London as a pre-eminent dispute resolution centre: opportunities and challenges”.

Sir Geoffrey concluded that the opportunities and challenges are one and the same. He posited that the UK can remain one of the most attractive dispute resolution centres in the world but only if it embraces new challenges. He listed five challenges, ranging from how the Covid-19 Pandemic has changed commerce to the effect of Brexit, but the focus of the lecture was on the advent of generative artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential use in the judicial process in the future.

Generative artificial intelligence

Whether we are conscious of it or not, we use AI every day. Generative AI is developing at breakneck speed. Generative Pre-trained Transformer 4 (GPT-4), available publicly through Chat GPT, was released by OpenAI on 14 March 2023. A fascinating (and, perhaps a little troubling) fact given by Sir Geoffrey was that when the previous generation of the technology, GPT 3.5, took the US Bar exams it came in the bottom 10%. When GPT-4 took them recently, it came in the top 10%.

The question posed in the lecture was “Can AI take judicial decisions in future in place of humans?”. Sir Geoffrey was strong in his view that, yes, AI is likely to be used to take judicial decisions in the future. He did, however, caveat that conclusion by stating that there will need to be a number of controls in place:

  1. In the first instance AI will only be used to take minor decisions in specific types of commercial disputes
  2. It is unlikely that AI will ever be used to decide matters of personal liberty, matters involving the welfare of children and the like
  3. If AI is implemented there should always be the option of appeal to a human judge

In Sir Geoffrey’s view, the advent of AI in judicial decision making will, to a large extent, depend on the confidence placed in it by litigants, and the wider-public in general. Farfetched it may seem, but the use of AI in commercial dispute resolution may already be used in the private sphere. It is likely that some large multinationals  (such as Amazon, Ebay etc.) already employ AI to adjudicate minor disputes. In the majority of those disputes, the AI generated decision is, more often than not, accepted by the parties. Why then can AI not be expanded to the formal judicial process?

The future

The legal industry and, in particular, the judicial system in England and Wales is well known for being slow to adapt to technological change. Indeed, the Courts only engaged in earnest with technology when they were forced to do so as a result of the pandemic.

If AI, digitisation and modern technologies are not embraced, London will inevitably decline as a pre-eminent dispute resolution centre. As Sir Geoffrey put it: “the prizes will go to the bold, not to those reluctant to change”. Now is the time to prepare.