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Sarawak courts to deploy Artificial Intelligence

Courts in Sarawak are readying themselves to begin applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) to provide judges with guidelines and analysis in their duty to mete out suitable jail penalties and fines.

The AI analysis will also allow prosecutors and lawyers to know in advance the potential outcome of judgement, the Chief Justice of Sabah and Sarawak stated when met after the ceremony to mark the beginning of the Sarawak and Sabah Legal Year.

The application was timely because in the past there were complaints in regards to disparity and inconsistency of penalties passed by magistrates or judges.

The AI application will be operational once the ground rules are created and ready, which will be towards the end of February 2020.

The system is mostly ready for deployment. However, the courts are still in the process of creating ground rules. The way or how it works will be made known to the accused persons and they will know in advance the likely outcome of their cases. Then it will be up to them to plead guilty or to plead not guilty.

As everything is already digitalised, the ‘machine’ will be able to capture historical data. That is why the courts are able to get this up and running quickly.

Earlier on, judges and invited guests were invited to view a demonstration of the AI in action. The AI application is the pilot project of SAINS.

The demonstration was held at one of the programmes for the opening of the Legal Year for Sabah and Sarawak 2020. AI data sentencing isn’t new – it’s been used in America and China but to mixed reactions.

The then Chief Justice of Malaysia stated that the courts have to embrace technological advancement that contributes to improving efficiency.

Such technological advancements are here to stay and Malaysia needs to move along with it, she noted. If this the system (AI) is coming to us, there is no reason why the country should not embark on it.

However, as the nation goes along with it, the government also cannot 100 per cent rely on it and so there must be some human element as well.

Compared to the states in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak are ahead (in terms of advanced technology) as they started much earlier – in 2007. It is, in fact, learning from Sabah and Sarawak in terms of technology.

The usage of AI was first mentioned briefly by former Chief Justice of Sabah and Sarawak during the opening of the Legal Year for Sabah and Sarawak 2019 when he was listing down the potential digital applications to improve the efficiency of the courts in the two states.

As for the use of AI, a data-driven feature called ‘data sentencing’ is currently being fine-tuned before it is introduced in the courts and this will help or guide judges and officers with the sentencing process, he said back then.

Malaysia’s courts of tomorrow

According to an article from February 2019, Malaysia’s judiciary branch’s ambition of joining its counterparts like the US, India, and Singapore may seem a bit lofty to traditional observers, but some significant digital transformation initiatives are already set in motion in the country.

Tech in the courtroom

Among some of the technological upgrade being introduced or to the legal branch of Malaysia are:

  • Video conference calling – To enable the courts in different regions to communicate with each other via digital means.
  • Case Management System – Expected to be completed by June this year, the system will allow lawyers to be almost paperless.
  • Auto-alert System – Helps lawyers avoid forgetting about filing relevant court documents within the due dates.

The adoption rate of technology is markedly slower among the private law firms in the country, compared to its many of its neighbours. One report estimates that Malaysia has about 20 firms exploring tech-driven solutions at the moment to improve operations, lagging behind Indonesia (22) and Singapore (23).

Regulatory hurdles

Malaysia’s flourishing legal tech space could be hampered by policies by the profession’s local regulatory body, the Malaysian Bar, which seeks to oversee the companies that are providing these services.

It has recently, been seeking to advise from its members to include a provision which will allow them to regulate legal technology into Malaysia’s Legal Profession Act (LPA) 1976.

The act which was last amended in 1993 determines the acceptable code of conduct and business practices of lawyers in the country and failing to adhere to the law will result in fines or even disbarment.

These regulations may dampen the tech eco-system in Malaysia as numerous existing players are already shutting down or forced to adopt different business models.

While the jury remains undecided on how the amendment will affect tech companies in this space, for the legal fraternity in Malaysia, adopting technology as quickly as possible is in their best interest, as it will enable them to deliver more value to clients and society in general.

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