Law and IT will have to work hand in hand in the future, and the preparation for the future begins with the preparation of skilled manpower supported by an academic qualification in both of the fields. They will be the key people transforming the field of law for our country
Our universities have been offering dual degrees of law coupled with programmes of management or humanities. With the advancement of Information Technology (IT) and its applications gaining wide scope, there seems to be a need for offering law degrees coupled with IT degrees, known as BITLLB in countries where they are offered.
Such a degree, if offered by Nepali universities, will prepare a whole new set of manpower in the country capable of working in a wide range of areas.
Because of COVID-19, the operation of courts has also been heavily disturbed.
Getting through this difficult situation, courts around the world have started hearing cases online.
Following the trend, Kavre District Court began hearing cases online, which was later followed by the Supreme Court of Nepal.
This is a simple example of using IT infrastructure in the judiciary of our country and might be the case for most of the developing countries.
But things are being taken to a whole new level in developed countries.
An article by Eric Niiler, published in Wired, a monthly American magazine, in the March of 2019, reported that the Justice Ministry of Estonia had begun a project to design a "Robot Judge", which would look after disputes involving less than 7000 euros.
AI-based tools have also been used in the Criminal Justice system. A proprietary software tool – Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS), which provides support for courts by assessing recidivism –has been used widely across U.S. courts.
In Wisconsin vs Loomis, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin affirmed the use of the tool for assessment of the defendant's likelihood of committing a crime in the future.
AI-based systems have a huge potential in justice systems but can have both positive and negative outcomes.
Realising this, the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ), recently prepared the European Ethical Charter on the Use of Artificial Intelligence in Judicial Systems and their environment.
These principles aim to guide the development of AI for the judicial system, which is transparent, without algorithmic bias, and respecting fundamental rights, to be used in Europe member states.
At present, we are just able to adopt simple technology like online case hearing, but with the progress of time and technology, will there be a day where the Nepali justice system will look for similar AIbased projects to be incorporated inside it? For the automation of tasks that are tedious doing manually, law firms in developed nations have started using AI-based solutions, which can perform tasks like proof-reading, legal document analysis, error correction and better client communication.
In an article published in Forbes in December 2019, its AI columnist Rob Toews provides a picture of what kind of research is being conducted in Western law firms on the utilisation of AI and how it's going to transform the sector.
For example, the article mentioned a startup – BlueJ, which had been researching the prediction of the outcome of litigation.
Now, visiting the website of the company reveals that it has already launched products focused on tax analytics for US and Canadian laws – separate applications for each.
With all these examples above, it can be said that Law and Information Technology will have to work hand in hand in the future, and the preparation for the future begins with the preparation of skilled human resources supported by an academic qualification in both of the fields.
The justice system of the country has already gained enough criticism from the citizens because of its traditional ink and paper-based working culture that often delays justice delivery affecting their daily life.
They will be the key to people transforming the field of law for our country.
University degrees in Law and IT are both becoming popular among high school students, and there are many students who would like to explore their possibilities in both fields.
A whole new era of entrepreneurship incorporating law and technology will start in the country with such graduates in the market. In addition, graduates with such a degree will have greater employment opportunities – allowing them to choose between two highly lucrative career paths.
Graduates with such a degree will not only be the developer of such systems but will also be able to assess the performance of systems already developed.
ProPublica –an independent investigative journalism firm – wrote that software like COMPAS, which was used across U.S. courts, was biased against black people.
The software is a data-driven machine learning tool, which heavily depends on the data it has been fed. Experts say the biased data has caused such output – bias data fed, bias results generated.
At present, much of the research that leads to the development of such software consists of separate legal and IT experts, with a gap in between them. With a person holding knowledge in both the fields, algorithm and data-based biases can be reduced.
An academic qualification allowing graduates to choose between two strong career paths or work in an area of research and development intersecting both the fields will be a popular option among students.
It will also in the future help to enhance the functioning of legal and justice systems of the country with people knowing social science related to the system and technology to boost up the application of such knowledge in the public's benefit.
It is high time faculties of Nepali universities started working together for the curriculum of such a degree and offered such programmes as early as possible.
Adhikari is pursuing his MSc in Computer Science at Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur, and holds an interest in law and its relation with computer science
A version of this article appears in the print on September 30 2021, of The Himalayan Times.