By Caoimhe Killeen
A lecturer in NUI Galway’s School of Law has released a paper warning that developing and increasing software in the Irish courts comes at a cost of strengthening existing biases in the justice system.
Dr Rónán Kennedy’s paper titled “Algorithms, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence in the Irish Legal Services Market” examined the use of Lawtech which is powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI).
It advises on the benefits and complications that could arise from implementing it into both the Irish legal system and the courts.
The paper states that while such technology could provide better access to the justice system through improved access to legal information and advice online, it could also deepen a digital divide by barring those with little to no IT skills from accessing these legal services and relying on outdated data and documents.
It also stated that Oireachtas members should consider how this AI powered technology should best be regulated and managed by lawyers and judges as a long-term policy question.
Dr Kennedy has stated that this technology is “part of a wave of change and innovation in the legal services market, globally and in Ireland. It could save consumers and businesses money and time and be a sector for economic growth.
“However, it is not a silver bullet to solve the problem of access to justice. As Artificial Intelligence (AI) is used more by lawyers and courts, it could lead to fairer outcomes or repeat existing biases.”
Dr Kennedy warned that these new AI powered software programmes could illegally discriminate in focusing on characteristics that determine social class, such as someone’s home address or height. “It is unlikely that AI can or will ever replace humans… if this software is not carefully designed, it could make prejudice even more difficult to remove from the justice system.”
Dr Kennedy also advised that areas that required immediate legislative intervention were validating digital signatures for wills and legal proceedings as well as admissibility of digital recordings in court. He further stated that the Oireachtas should investigate whether some legislation should be completely digital from the offset.
This research was carried out through a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) grant to contribute to their Spotlight series research under their Public Interest Fellowship.
The series consists of advisory papers which give TDs and Senators in–depth briefings on a single policy issue.
Dr Kennedy is one of six professors who is currently working under the Oireachtas Library and Research Service under the SFI fellowship programme and has stated that under the programme he has been provided the opportunity to learn more about how the Oireachtas operates.
“The SFI Public Interest Fellowship provided a very interesting opportunity to learn more about how the Oireachtas operates, the important work of legislators, and how researchers can contribute to the development of policy.
“My findings raise important questions that lawmakers and everyone involved in legal services should consider. The pandemic has shown how useful technology can be, but we need to have a debate about how we manage tools like remote court hearings and AI assistants for lawyers and judges to ensure that all of the impacts are positive.”
Dr Kennedy’s paper is available in the Spotlight paper, which is published through the Oireachtas Library and Research service.