Justice Aedit Abdullah had applied to join the Singapore Law Review 28 years ago as an undergraduate, but was rejected. However, he obviously moved on as the review invited him to deliver its landmark 30th annual lecture on the impact of AI in the courts.
Justice Abdullah's lecture at the National University of Singapore's law faculty, entitled ‘The Obsolescent Judge,’ raised a ‘broader and topical’ issue looking at the impact of smart systems, artificial intelligence (AI), data mining and blockchain technology might have on the traditional notions of a judge, reflecting on his role in court. Justice Aedit said, ‘looking at the technological and societal changes, we are at the cusp of a new era in terms of the development of the legal system, which will ultimately impact on the role of judges.’ He asked whether automation and technology could help people in a direct way to navigate the system, and if so ‘do you need a judge to be involved from the word go?.’ He suggested, ‘with all of this in mind, what I would like to posit is we will come to the point where really the judge plays a secondary role, at least at the first instance,’ adding the presence of online dispute resolution prediction systems, which can inform parties of potential outcomes, may remove the need to attend court.
Judge Abdullah suggested that in commercial, medical negligence or motor accident cases, a judge may not be needed but will instead review a decision by running through an AI system and then ‘take it from there.’ He explained, ‘this is something that will gain momentum over perhaps the next two decades.’ Other areas he thought ‘quite ripe’ for AI systems are administrative judging and applications to seek court approval. However, in areas such as family law, where the personal touch is important and which require a balancing of factors, he suggested judges would still be needed, though AI could support in document analysis and other areas. He also suggested judges of the future would become problem solvers as well, and explained ‘ultimately, the role of justice is about achieving justice for the citizen, so if these things come to pass, it might be good for the system as a whole and, because of that, it might be something that is bound to happen, but I am not saying it will happen.’