Artificial intelligence instruments can be very good judicial assistants to judges, for tasks such as compiling defendants’ responses, researching legislation or case law, but they should never decide court cases. This was one of the messages left this Friday by Judge José Joaquim Martins, advisor at the Constitutional Court (TC) and coordinator of a working group that reflected over more than a year on digital justice, during a presentation at the XII Congress of the Portuguese Judges, in Madeira.
The magistrate reminded his colleagues that technology in itself is not bad and has great potential to improve justice, but admitted that there are risks if it is used in an inappropriate way.
The magistrate defended that, in this context, it is necessary to define the limits of the “Digital Rule of Law” and said he believed that, because of technological evolution, there are legal professions that will disappear and others that will be adapted, “The big law firms already realized that, but the same does not happen in the judiciary”, said José Joaquim Martins.
The judge admitted that virtual trials will be held, but argued that this should only happen in civil cases of little value. “Differentiated solutions are needed, adjusted to the very nature of the process. It makes no sense to judge a homicide from a distance”, he considered.
The TC advisor recalled that technology is not accessible to everyone and spoke of the “digital divide”, underlining that there are parts of the country, such as the interior of Madeira, where there is often no access to the Internet. On the other hand, he recalled that not everyone has access to a cell phone. “Infoexcluded people cannot become excluded from the law”, he maintained, arguing that entities such as parish councils must have tools and people available to help those who do not have digital literacy.
With regard to judges, he said that being forced to use digital tools, it is important that they know how to use them in a way that they do not become dependent on third parties. “It is fundamental to have individual and continuous training for judges in this area”, he defended.
José Joaquim Martins once again insisted on a change that judges have been fighting for some time: the direct management of the IT systems of Justice, which would come to be controlled by the superior councils of magistrates and not by the Ministry of Justice.
The challenges and risks that technology brings to the courts was a topic addressed this Thursday at the opening session of the congress both by the president of the Supreme Administrative Court, Dulce Neto, and by the president of the Union Association of Portuguese Judges, Manuel Ramos Soares.
Dulce Neto asked the judges to discuss the dangers of applying technology in Justice and to guarantee an “adequate articulation between technology, human rights and fundamental rights, certifying that the digital solutions adopted are safe and neutral and generate understandable, fair and unethical digital acts. discriminatory”.
Manuel Ramos Soares also considered that “the invincible challenge of artificial intelligence is knocking at the door of the courts, with serious risks of mischaracterization and dehumanization of justice”. And he added: “Subject to the pressure of numbers, speed of response and statistical productivity, the exercise of judicial power is increasingly functionalized.
The president of the ASJP underlined that “the physical removal of the judge from the court, allowed by electronic access to the process and encouraged by the advantages of efficiency, if not quickly contained within reasonable limits, will annihilate the classic symbolic function of justice, dehumanize the process of analysis and decision, increase the probability of error”.