Computer scientists have created an AI program capable of predicting the outcome of human rights trials. The program was trained on data from nearly 600 cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and was able to predict the court's final judgement with 79 percent accuracy. Its creators say it could be useful in identifying common patterns in court cases, but stress that they do not believe AI will be able to replace human judgement.
"I don’t see that we're ready or near to ready to creating AI judges and lawyers," Dr. Nikolaos Aletras, the scientist who led the research, told The Verge. "Although courts do already use a lot of computer analytic tools, and I think that in the future, AI could be useful for this too."
Don't expect to see an AI judge any time soon
As described in a study published in the journal PeerJ Computer Science, the AI program worked by analyzing descriptions of court cases submitted to the ECHR. These descriptions included summaries of legal arguments, a brief case history, and an outline of the relevant legislation. The cases were grouped into three main violations of human rights law, including the prohibition on torture and degrading treatment; the right to a fair trial; and the right to "respect for private and family life." (Used in a wide range of cases including illegal searches and surveillance.)
The AI program then looked for patterns in this data, correlating the courts' final judgements with, for example, the type of evidence submitted, and the exact part of the European Convention on Human Rights the case was alleged to violate. Aletras says a number of patterns emerged. For example, cases concerning detention conditions (eg access to food, legal support, etc.) were more likely to end in a positive judgement that an individual's human rights had been violated; while cases involving sentencing issues (i.e., how long someone had been imprisoned) were more likely to end in acquittal.
Revealing hidden patterns in human rights cases
The researchers also found that the judgements of the court were more dependent on the facts of the case itself (that is to say, its history and its particulars) than the legal arguments (i.e., how exactly the Convention on Human Rights had or had not been violated). In legal jargon, this means the judges were found to more often be "realists" than "formalists" — interested more in a "fair" judgement than a strict application of the letter of the law. This is observation that's held true in studies looking at judgements from various high-level courts, including the US Supreme Court.
"It was our intention to reveal the patterns that drive judicial decisions," said Aletras. "We don't claim that judges take decisions in any particular way." Alestras and his fellow researchers say their AI program could be particularly useful in prioritizing court cases. In the example of the ECHR, says Aletras, there's a huge backlog of cases to be prosecuted, and AI could be used to "highlight which cases are likely to be a violation" and therefore more pressing to deal with. The hope then isn't that computers will replace human judges, but that they'll instead lead to more human judgements.