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Outgoing Chief Justice satisfied with court's artificial intelligence system
Published on: Thursday, February 20, 2020
By: Jo Ann Mool
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Kota Kinabalu: Outgoing Chief Justice of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri David Wong Dak Wah described the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to assist in passing sentences for the first time in the court’s history as a momentous occasion for the Malaysian judiciary.

Speaking to reporters after witnessing the Magistrate’s Court’s proceedings where two drug-related cases were heard and sentenced with assistance of the AI technology, Wong said he was satisfied with the results. 

“Yes. We are happy. At least you see today that the accused was given a chance to maintain his plea of guilty after being told by the court what is the likely sentence.

“In other words, the accused was able to make an informed decision…he knew what is going to happen compared to before he (accused) only had an idea of what is going to happen. In our view, that is an improvement to our judicial system,” he said.

Together with Wong at the press conference was Chief Justice of Malaysia Tan Sri Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat.

On the objection raised by the defence counsel that use of AI technology was against the Federal Constitution, Wong said lawyers are entitled to make whatever objection.

Counsel Hamid Ismail, representing the accused at the proceedings had urged the court not to refer the AI machine in sentencing an accused person, saying it was a breach of Article 5(1) and Article 8(1) of the Federal Constitution and that the AI was not stated in the Criminal Procedure Code.

Wong said this was also new to the court and unless it is tested in the court “we would not know whether it is constitutional or not.”

Having said that, since there was a challenge, Wong said he or the Chief Justice would have to refrain from commenting further because it would mean that they would be giving their view while in office.

“So, we will leave the objection take its course. If the Counsel is minded to take it further, he is entitled to. That is all I can say,” he said, adding that such challenges were anticipated when something new was being introduced and may infringe the rule of law or the constitution.

“We just have to take the challenge as it comes because at the end of the day we just want to make sure that justice is delivered to the public,” he said.

“But if I may explain further, actually the AI system is not, (if) we talk about artificial intelligence, actually there is not much intelligence there. 

“What we are doing here is (put) all the sentencing that have given out in other cases into the machine and then the machine just analyse and give an answer.

“If we don’t use the machine, the magistrate will take quite some time to go through the books and all that and if you do it manually you may miss out (some details) but with the machine it would not.

“The machine doesn’t get tired, whatever you put in, the machine will absorb and give us the recommendation. I emphasise…the machine only gives recommendation and the ultimate decision maker is still the person on the bench.” 

Wong said it was just to make it easier for the person sitting as a Magistrate or Sessions court judge and “I can assure you this would lead to consistency of sentencing. 

According to him, the public have been complaining about the consistency of sentencing, in particular disparity of sentencing between one court and another.

To a question, Wong agreed that one of the purposes for AI technology was to speed up proceedings but reiterated that the main issue of consistency in sentencing.

“You go to any jurisdiction around the world, the complaint by the public is inconsistent, why is this person sentenced to one year while the other person was sentenced to a fine, right?

“So, the public are looking at every judicial system. And to me, using the machine to analyse all the data you put in there, that would achieve consistency. That is the main aim,” he said.

Wong also said that the system would not just stop at criminal matters but extended to civil cases as well, especially car accidents where the court award damages for injuries.

“We are actually in the process of doing it for the civil side,” he said, adding that hopefully something would be up within three to six months.

“But again, it is a useful tool for the judiciary and that before going to trial the lawyers will be able, both sides will be able to know what the court is likely to award as damages.

“Now, with that information, the lawyers will be able to negotiate to have a settlement before they come to court. That would help the court and that there will be less cases in court and being less cases in court, I mean, we will be more efficient in dealing with cases of genuine dispute,” he said.

At the same time, he said the technology would also not be confined to criminal matters relating to Section 12(2) of the Dangerous Drugs Act and Section 376 of the Penal Code but expanded to cover other offences that are more serious as well.

 


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