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Cyber courts and online justice

A court trial in the UK, or so I’m reliably informed, involves standing before a geriatric in a dusty wig who sits on an old oak bench and follows an ancient set of rituals.  As Brits we’re supposed to embrace history and the quirky traditions the rest of the world find ‘cute’.  Our archaic legal system is a perfect example of this.

judge in court

But, could change be on its way?  Is technology about to break down the doors to the halls of justice?  In China the process has already begun.

Online justice

The Chinese have launched a cyber court.  Set up to tackle the increasing number of complaints and online claims the court focuses on civil disputes.

Trials are held following the usual format with a judge and advocates for both parties.  The difference is no one, apart from the judge, is physically in the courtroom.

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The judge sits alone in front of a big screen.  Lawyers for both sides sit in their own offices and defendants and plaintiffs appear on video links.  Evidence is given and the judge makes a ruling.

The Chinese have launched their new system to help transparency.  But, also to speed up the legal process.  Their cyber court also makes it easier for defendants and plaintiffs to appear in court.  Previously, geographical restrictions would often prevent people attending court or pursuing justice.

Other cyber courts

The Chinese aren’t the first to experiment with online justice.  Around the world other countries have developed online systems for filing paperwork but an actual online court, like the one in China, is still very much a rarity.

gavel and laptop

British Columbia’s Civil Resolution Tribunal handles claims for up to £3,000.  Everything is done online and has proved sucessful.  Over 7500 cases were handled in the court’s first full year.  The system is likely to be extended to the rest of Canada.

However, there are surprisingly few other examples of cyber courts around the world.  Turkey, Australia, and the US do have extensive electronic filing systems.  Proceedings are faster and more transparent.  However, hearings are still held in traditional courts.

What about the UK?

Unsurprisingly, given the traditional nature of our legal system, the UK is lagging behind China and Canada.

But even here there are some elements of online justice.  Car drivers who receive a penalty notice for driving in a bus lane can view the footage online and launch an appeal.  But there is no actual online dispute resolution.  Though there are advocates for change.

In 2015 the civil justice council proposed an online dispute resolution (ODR) model.  And, Richard Susskind, an IT adviser to the lord chief justice, is a proponent of online legal systems.  Susskind believes the current justice system is outdated and out of reach for many.

cyber court on monitor

Speaking to the Guardian he said: “The system is costly for users; it’s usually too time consuming and disputes take a long time to resolve; it’s largely unintelligible; and it also seems out of step in the internet society. Citizens have a growing expectation that services will be delivered digitally.”

Cyber justice – the eBay way

ODR could be a way to resolve small claims and civil disputes.  Online dispute resolution encourages rival parties to settle a dispute between themselves.  An adjudicator will make a final decision if agreement can’t be reached.  A real world example of this is the system used by eBay to settle disputes between buyers and sellers.

The eBay system could be easily tweaked to settle civil disputes.  However, this couldn’t be used for criminal cases.  But, could we see a Chinese type cyber court in the UK?

Computer cases

Following the Chinese model could work for low-level hearings.  Minor cases such as speeding or TV licence evasion could be handled through computer link ups.  A magistrate sitting on his own with defendants and lawyers dialling in could handle cases faster than a normal court.  It would also save participants having to travel for a hearing.

However, it is unlikely cyber courts would be considered for more serious cases.  Jury trials would be impractical.  It would also contravene a defendant’s right to face their accuser.  Though video links are already used in some trials.

The future – AI in the courtroom?

But what about the future?  Could we eventually see some kind of Orwellian justice system?  With judges, lawyers, and juries replaced by a computer algorithm.

robot judge

Defendants would be convicted or acquitted according to an electronic sifting of evidence and the balance of probabilities.

Let us know what you think in the comments box below.

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Craig Ellyard

Token old guy in the office and lifelong Hull City fan with all the psychological issues that brings. To relax I enjoy walking my two Labradors, as well as running and cycling.

4 comments

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  1. John de Rivaz 5 September, 2017 at 09:42

    The problem with introducing it in the UK is that there is no financial incentive. There would be less economic activity. There is incentive in that less time off work spent sitting around for hours even days doing nothing. There would be less pollution and carbon emissions. But these factors seem to come second best to the movement of money as measured by the collection of VAT. The more money flows, the more prosperous an economy appears to be, regardless of whether the flow of money produces any physical value.

    As to “Orwellian cyber justice” that would be fine as long as there is always the right to appeal to a traditional court of law. Followers of police reality shows on TV will know that the CPS already runs a similar system in that they estimate the likely outcome of cases before they allow the police to prosecute.

  2. anton brook 19 September, 2017 at 10:58

    In a recent case I attended, the accused was found not guilty by a jury because a clever lawyers questions to a witness, even though the evidence to the contrary was overwhelming even the judge was surprised i don’t think the verdict would have been not guilty if the evidence and logic was used by a computer instead of human beings misled by a very clever lawyer

  3. Robert Newman 19 September, 2017 at 11:08

    wow use the ebay system? I presume that fairness is supposed to be part of this? if it is then using ebay as an example is a recipe for utter chaos! Lets look at just a few examples: seller sends an item that was broken before posting, when a not as described case is opened he says in an email “Oh good I was hoping you would not notice that, well when you have paid to return it I can claim for the damage and I will have the item and the compensation” ebay’s response to my claim “it was my fault and I didn’t qualify for a refund”. Or how about the time I sold an item, the buyer didn’t pay and after going through the claim process it was sold to another customer, 2 weeks later the original berk fiddled the ebay system and paid for the item, ebays response “you have to send the item to the original buyer, you also have to send the item to the second buyer, failing to do so will mean your account will be suspended” this was for a rare item that had not been made in 20 years, my account was suspended for 6 months until I had to take them to small claims court, I have literally hundreds of cases like these 43 my own in 11 years of ebay use, I know in every case one or more side is disappointed, but ebays mantra is “punish the honest and protect the thieves and dishonest

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