CJ: Artificial intelligence for sentencing, virtual hearings, holograms in tomorrow’s courts

Ida Lim
Tan Sri Richard Malanjum says Malaysia's courts will soon see judges using artificial intelligence when deciding on punishments for convicted criminals. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

PUTRAJAYA, Jan 11 ― Malaysia's courts will soon see judges using artificial intelligence when deciding on punishments for convicted criminals, and may even adopt the use of advanced technology such as virtual courtrooms and holograms, the Chief Justice said today.

Tan Sri Richard Malanjum was listing out the upcoming technology expected to be used to drive reforms in the Malaysian judiciary.

“I know it sounds too high up, but that is in the pipeline. So hopefully, one day we will be talking about the use of virtual court and hologram technology instead of video-conferencing,” he said in a speech at  the opening of the legal year 2019.

A video shown to the audience at the event tagged the virtual court proposal under the heading “journey towards 2025”.

As for the use of artificial intelligence, Malanjum said a data-driven feature called “data sentencing” is currently being fine-tuned before it is introduced in the courts.

“This will help or guide judges and officers with the sentencing process so that there would be less disparity of the same offences when it comes before the courts, which have always been a problem.

“So hopefully this will come out soon by the end of this month,” he said.

The public has at times compared the penalties meted out for similar offences, questioning for example if thefts involving  items of smaller value were being punished more severely than those involving higher sums.

“Technology is coming to the legal profession and we must embrace technology. There is no option, either we adapt or be dropped,” he added.

Malanjum also highlighted two upcoming additional technological innovations that would serve to remind both lawyers and judges of upcoming deadlines.

Lawyers no longer need to be fearful of forgetting to file the relevant court documents by the due dates with the introduction of the “auto-alert” system.

“Very soon, before June, the alert system will be introduced in peninsular Malaysia, this has already been introduced in Sabah and Sarawak.

“So if you have a case where you are supposed to file a defence, the system will alert you at least one day before due date that you have a defence or affidavit to file,” he said.

Malanjum said judges will soon be using a colour-coded monitoring system where they will be alerted if they have pending judgments, jokingly saying they would not be able to “plead amnesia” when such pending judgments pile up.

Malanjum today listed the reforms that the judiciary has implemented in the past few months in response to recommendations by the Institutional Reforms Committee.

This includes a shift from the typical top-down approach in government departments to a collective management approach where the top four judges discuss and make decision based on the majority.

Malanjum said the Chief Justice now no longer chooses the panel of judges in Federal Court cases to avoid perceived bias especially in high-profile cases, with the selection of judges instead done randomly via a software under the e-balloting system.

The judiciary has also now formed a consultative committee together with representatives from the Attorney-General's Chambers and the three Bars, with regular meetings held on matters related to the courts.

He said a queue management system has been introduced in the Palace of Justice where lawyers can wait for their turn outside of the courtroom, and can monitor when their cases would be called through the screen display in the canteen and via their mobile phones.

Malanjum said the online case management system had been in use in east Malaysia in the past years, adding that this “e-review” system was introduced  in the appellate courts.

Lawyers now no longer have to come to the appellate courts and face congested carparks just to get hearing dates, adding that this online system that allows case management from the comfort of their offices or homes will be extended to other courts by this March.

He envisioned a time when the court process would be “paper-less”, with lawyers being able to work from anywhere globally without renting an office and wielding a tablet instead of thick bundles of physical documents.

Noting the traffic jams between Kuala Lumpur and Shah Alam as well as rising flight ticket and hotel prices, Malanjum said video conferencing for court matters will be available in Kuala Lumpur, Shah Alam and Penang by the end of this month, with expansion to other areas soon.

Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Datuk Seri David Wong Dak Wah earlier today acknowledged his predecessor Malanjum's successful transformation of the courts in east Malaysia in the last 10 years from a manual court system to an award-winning modern IT-based system.

Wong noted that courts in Sabah and Sarawak had since 2007 conducted hearings using video conferencing between the main towns with time and costs saved for all involved, adding that the innovation would be further enhanced with the launch next week of three new mobile apps in the opening of the legal year in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

Malanjum was previously Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak from 2006 to July 2018, during which he introduced  the use of buses as mobile courts to reach those in rural areas in east Malaysia.

Wong said the mobile court rolled out about 10 years ago was a more cost-effective method than a permanent court building with permanent staff, adding that it has also helped facilitate 87,345 birth certification cases ― usually linked to late birth registration in remote areas ― as of December 31, 2018.

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