How AI Can Help Tackle the UK’s Criminal Justice Crisis
It’s no secret that the UK is facing a crisis in its courts. Last year, in a letter to the Justice Secretary, London Mayor Sadiq Khan highlighted that there were 16,000 outstanding cases in London’s Crown Courts and nearly 73,000 in Magistrates Courts. It was suggested that victims and survivors in the capital could be waiting up to five years to get a court date.
The subsequent criminal barristers’ strike in the Autumn of last year was indicative of a critically underfunded sector in crisis.
Indeed, with the number of cases awaiting trial at an all-time high, and the volume of evidence in need of review only continuing to increase, we must start to think seriously about the role of next-generation technology in the criminal justice system. Far from terminator-style images of robot judges, artificial intelligence has a real and tangible role to play in this sector.
Today, nearly every criminal investigation includes a substantial digital evidence component, whether that be text messages, emails, WhatsApp, or data generated by satellite navigation systems and even fitness watches. The World Economic Forum predicts that we will be producing over 463 exabytes of data every day by 2025, and this ever-growing digital footprint presents a challenge for criminal defence lawyers. Just one example is the case of Liam Allan, where 40,000 text messages were omitted from evidence and caused the case to fall apart at the last minute.
Whilst the pandemic prompted the courts to rethink the way they traditionally worked and embrace new technology, such as video conferencing software, there is still much to be done to bring the system into the digital age. Digital files at His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service remain hard to access and review, and still require a person to comb through mountains of data, a time-consuming and resource-intensive task prone to human error. In stark contrast, AI can read and understand vast data volumes in a matter of seconds, accelerating and automating the review of potential evidence to improve efficiency before a case even arrives in the courtroom.
Last year, I was incredibly proud when Luminance made history as the first use of AI at London’s highest criminal court, The Old Bailey. A London barristers’ chambers, The 36 Group, used our AI to analyse over 10,000 documents prior to the recently concluded trial of Rikki Neave, a six-year-old boy who was tragically murdered near his home in Peterborough nearly 30 years ago. Using next-generation technology, a 20-person team consisting of barristers, police officers and forensic experts was able to identify key evidence and individuals of interest, shaving an entire month off the review time, save £50,000 in costs and ensure they had a robust defence argument ahead of trial.
The lead defence barrister on the case, Sally Hobson, at the time commented: “The AI learns what to search for, reads and understands and can surface in hours what would take months to find manually. The lawyers will still make their decisions and the judges would still judge on it, but they will be aided by technology to enhance and accelerate these cases.”
This landmark use of AI at the Old Bailey demonstrates the need for advanced technology and its role in ‘levelling the playing field’ for criminal defence teams. It’s important to note that AI will by no means replace judges, solicitors or the role of the courts, but it can serve as an invaluable extension to help process the sheer volume of data generated by investigations and criminal cases on a daily basis. Indeed, in a climate of ever-increasing workloads and record backlogs, embracing AI technology could prove vital in tackling the criminal justice crisis.