£1 billion legal tech initiative can help to improve the Criminal Justice System in the UK?

The criminal courts in the UK has been criticized by Criminal Barristers for years now due to the slow process of the criminal cases moving to the court due to funding cuts and the fact that it is market-based rather than a rights-based system. This means that the poor people are at a disadvantaged when it comes to the criminal justice system. The pandemic had given an even more disastrous effect to the criminal justice system as the number of cases in the backlog have increased drastically to 41,000 from 37,000. Two well-renowned authors in the criminal law area, the Secret Barrister and Chris Daw, heavily criticised the way things works in the criminal justice system in the UK.

Due to the various problem in the criminal justice system, it is more than ever important for the justice system to adopt legal technology to carry out the criminal litigations smoothly with the help of Ministry of Justice pledge to allocate about £2 million fund for Tech Nation to improve the UK’s legal sector and embark on the £1 billion digital reform for the HM Courts and Tribunals Service. So, what is legal tech? I think that most of us by now have heard about the term legal tech as the legal world is taken by storm with the need to utilise technology in order to stay up to date with the current times. In short, it is basically a short form for technology for law. The need to implement it in the legal workplace was the immediate response for most of the law firms to work virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. The basic use of legal tech would be by using the Microsoft office for lawyers to draft documents and so on. However, the use of Microsoft office can be supplemented with technology that is specifically for the legal field to speed up the process of drafting documents. One of the main types of legal techs are artificial intelligence and machine learning which uses algorithms to analyse documents that covers many areas of law. The artificial intelligence teaches the computer on how to reason, inform and make the decision while machine learning does not require a lot of programming to teach itself decision-making. This helps to decrease the chances of error in documents as humans tends to do silly mistakes. There are also e-discovery tools to provide solutions in litigation. This does not just eliminated error, but it also gives better extraction of important information for judgement during litigation. Other than that, workplace tools such as the smartsheets can help to digitise and automate the works in the legal practice. It can definitely aid communication improve efficiency. Cloud-based databases gives the lawyers the ability to access the case files from the database everywhere.

Many firms have been investing on legal technology, and it has been proven to be highly beneficial for them as it maximises the firm potential when combined with legal tech. One of the law firms that have implemented the use of legal tech is Slaughter & May. The firm uses AI tools such as Luminance to train their trainee solicitors. This can be used for the criminal justice system to train new lawyers in order to make them feel comfortable with the system. Linklaters, on the other side, provides coding courses for their trainee’s as they believe that it will give them a better understanding of artificial intelligence for legal practice. The knowledge on AI for junior lawyers in the criminal courts can definitely help them with the decision-making process and can help them developed a suitable argument in court. The judges can also benefit AI as the judgement can be derived easily with the help of AI.

It is clear that all of the legal tech mentioned above can be implemented into the criminal courts as it can work effectively as a complement to the legal practice. However, we must acknowledge the disadvantages of using legal tech in the criminal justice system. For instance, the judgements deriving from the use of artificial intelligence for the use of the criminal cases may be bias and may not reflect justice. Hence, it is important for humans to check the judgements made by artificial intelligence to uphold the principle of the justice system. The same thing for e-discovery tools. Although e-discovery can give what seems to be the ‘perfect’ solutions to the criminal sector, the solutions created cannot be used as the final solution in a criminal litigation as the software is only limited to informations that is inputed and does not go beyond the rational thinking of a human. Its is also safe to say that virtual training for junior lawyers cannot bring the same experience as a person who shadows a barrister. Furthermore, the used of cloud-base database may imposed security risked when the important part to every criminal cases is actually confidentiality. The potential risk to confidentiality can further destroy the major elements of criminal justice system.

In the end, there are pros and cons to the use of legal tech for the criminal justice system. Can it justify the £1 billion investment for legal tech. It is up to individuals to decide as everyone have a different opinion. I think that it is definitely beneficial for the criminal justice system to adopt legal tech after weighing the pros and cons. Despite the disadvantages, I can see that it can effectively increase efficiency because it acts as good supplement to legal practice and a right move towards the digital age.

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