Chief Judge: Sabah, Sarawak High Courts to use AI to propose punishments

Sulok Tawie
Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Datuk Seri Panglima David Wong Dak Wah speaks during a press conference in Putrajaya January 10, 2020. ― Picture by Choo Choy May

KUCHING, Jan 17 — The High Court of Sabah and Sarawak will soon rely partly on artificial intelligence (AI) for sentencing, among their other forays into utilising technology for the judiciary.

Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri David Wong Dak Wah said the emergence of AI in Industrial Revolution 4.0 cannot be ignored by both the judiciary and the legal profession.

“Ignoring is in fact not an option. In fact, it is not something in the future, it is more like the future is here,” he said in his address at the opening of the Legal Year 2020 here.

“In this regard, the judiciary of Sabah and Sarawak had taken the first step in embracing AI in getting the machine to determine the appropriate sentences for certain criminal offences.

“In embracing AI, we are fully aware that the use of AI does not breach the rule of law. We will disclose the algorithm in which the machine operates,” he added.

Wong said the use of the AI will only act as a guideline to the judicial officers in coming to their decisions.

“We can envisage one day in the not too distance future that there will be kiosk in the lobby of the court premises for an accused and his lawyer to predict what kind of sentence the court may pass if he pleaded guilty.

“When use appropriately, AI will increase efficiency of a process and raise the quality and consistency of our decisions,” he said, adding that the legal profession also cannot ignore the emergence of AI.

He said there are machines in existence which can predict an outcome of the dispute.

“This is happening in the United States and Australia, where practitioners use this machine as a tool to negotiate a settlement prior to going to litigation,” the chief judge said.

He added with recent and dramatic advances in the capacities of machines, people are now beginning to see artificial intelligence tools come into their own.

“This matters for our judiciary and the legal profession, not only because the courts are embedded in an increasingly AI-rich world, but also AI tools are beginning to enter the courthouse doors, leading to important questions, like who is liable when AI tool leads a doctor to wrong diagnosis.

“Who is liable when the AI tool in a crypto currency trading platform malfunction leading to losses by the platform operator or how do defamation laws apply to AI-generated speech?

“What ground rules should be in place as we use AI tools to assist sentencing? What do hyper realistic fake videos mean for the rule of evidence?” he asked.

Wong said in the University of New South Wales, law students are required to learn technology and use them to solve problems in the delivery of legal services.

“In my mind, there is no doubt that a lawyer with both technical and legal knowledge would be more marketable than one without technical knowledge,” he said, advising members of the legal profession is to start embracing the emergence of AI. 

Later, Wong, Chief Justice Tan Sri Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, President of the Court of Appeal Datuk Rohana Yusuf and Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Azahar Mohamed witnessed a demonstration on the application of AI machine.

Tengku Maimun told reporters that technological advancement is here to stay, saying that the judiciary has to move along with it.

“If this is the system that is coming to us, I don’t see any reason why we should not embark on this.

And I think the whole idea is we cannot rely 100 per cent on technology so there must some human elements as well.

“We can see at this juncture how this will increase and enhance the efficiency of the officers dealing with the cases. The ultimate aim to improve efficiency,” she said.

Tengku Maimun said Sabah and Sarawak courts are ahead when compared to Peninsular Malaysia on the use of digital systems.

She said Sabah and Sarawak courts started much earlier in 2006.

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