The future of dispute resolution: AI

Date published

27/04/2017

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Artificial intelligence (AI) and technology are fast becoming central to the future of dispute resolution. The High Court Divisions at the Rolls Building are implementing a mandatory e-filing system from 25 April 2017, social media is routinely being used to prove or disprove a claimant’s version of events, negotiations are being conducted via online software and predictive coding is being applied to disclosure exercises.
It is clear that more integration between AI, technology and dispute resolution will occur in the future, but will this assist or hinder access to justice, particularly for those on low incomes?

Assisting access

  1. Reducing costs

Much of the legal work currently being automated complements lawyers and can help to reduce legal costs. For instance, predictive coding can be used (court approval for such technology gained in Pyrrho Investments Ltd v MWB Property Ltd [2016]) in suitable disclosure exercises to review large volumes of electronic documents quickly and accurately, whilst also reducing costs. By having AI assistance on files, it can make expensive tasks such as disclosure, and therefore the use of lawyers, more affordable to clients.

   2. ‘Robot’ lawyers

AI ‘robot’ lawyer and chatbot system, DoNotPay, assists people in legal issues such as appealing parking tickets, claiming for delayed flights, claiming for PPI, applying for emergency housing and claiming asylum, without paying legal fees. The application can be used with a large range of devices making it easy for anybody to access justice inexpensively. Whilst not appropriate for every case, the system is suitable for use on a number of legal issues which are more commonly faced by those on low income, for example applying for emergency housing.

DoNotPay and other AI and technology will also help legal aid and non-profit organisations to assist a larger number of clients, many of whom have turned to them due to their inability to afford legal fees.

   3. Online courts

The creation of an online court was proposed by Lord Justice Briggs in his final report on the Civil Courts Structure Review in July 2016. By creating a system that can be easily accessed by litigants in person, the online court could provide greater access to justice for those on low incomes who cannot afford to use the current legal system.

However, this will only be for disputes up to the value of £25,000 and as such will not assist those on low income whose cases are worth more than this. Furthermore, because the system can be used by a litigant in person does not mean that the Defendant will also be unrepresented. If more claimants are encouraged to represent themselves without the same being said for defendants, we could see a greater disparity in those low income individuals accessing justice effectively.

Hindering access

  1. Reduce pro bono

It has been suggested that AI will have unexpected consequences for those on low income seeking access to justice. For example, as AI and technology help law firms to become more efficient at procedural and commodity work, there may be a decrease in the number of junior lawyers who would normally undertake pro bono work. This in turn will affect those who rely on pro bono services to access justice

   2. Accessing technology

Currently, around one fifth of the population cannot or will not engage in using technology, with only a third of the population being classed as able to use technology without requiring support. Within these figures, the lower the income the less likely it is that the individual will possess the skills required to be able to access digital sources successfully. As such, the move of the justice system towards online resources can be said to be hindering access to justice for a percentage of the population, particularly those on low income.

  3. Increasing disparity

Whilst a portion of the technology and AI being introduced will be free or low cost (such as chatbots), some will be expensive for firms and organisations to purchase, set up and use (such as predictive coding). If firms and non-profit organisations with low income clients cannot afford to utilise the technology and AI, their clients will not be able to access these advancements. This will in turn create further inequality for low income clients accessing justice.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that technology and AI can be of great assistance in dispute resolution. To ensure that these emerging systems are available to all, support needs to be established to ensure that those on low incomes have the ability to access them. This support could come from governmental resources or from large firms assisting non-profit organisations in accessing the various systems which would otherwise be out of their reach. Without support the inequality gap could widen and those on low income could find that these developments in dispute resolution will further hinder their access to justice.