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UNESCO hosts dialogue with Global South Experts on Justice in the Digital Age

UNESCO hosted a dialogue on digital transformation and AI adoption across justice systems at the Africa Legal Innovation Week in Nairobi, Kenya. Over 80 participants including judges, lawyers, civil society representatives and technical experts from Africa, Asia and Latin America joined the discussion on the use of AI in justice systems.

This event highlighted that while AI can be used to strengthen administration of justice, the emergence of legal analytics and predictive justice brings along implications for human rights as AI systems’ opaqueness can go against the principles of open justice, due process, and the rule of law.

Earlier this year, UNESCO’s Artificial Intelligence Needs Assessment in Africa had identified the need for judicial operators to be aware of both the opportunities and risks of using AI in justice systems across 32 countries in Africa.

How is AI being used in justice systems?

Rafael Leite Paulo, Federal Judge and Assistant to the Presidency of the National Council of Justice in Brazil, presented digital transformation initiatives in the Brazilian Justice system. Judge Leite Paulo described the Socrates system used at the Supreme Tribunal of Justice. It produces an automated examination of each appeal sent to the Tribunal and its previous judgement and recommends legislative resources, legal precedents, and the next course of action. For state courts, AI systems like LEIA and Hércules, used in the Tribunal of Justice of Acre (TJAC) and Tribunal of Justice of Alagoas (TJAL) respectively, optimize repetitive tasks and ensure greater legal scrutiny.

In terms of law enforcement, AI is being adopted in countries such as the US, Brazil, UK, India, Argentina, Columbia, and Estonia, said Jhalak Kakkar, Executive Director of Centre for Communication Governance, National Law University Delhi. The advances include using digital evidence in prosecution, using predictive policing and facial recognition.

While justice delivery and law enforcement must move together with modern times, we must be aware of the associated challenges and ensure that any adoption of AI by the judiciary or law enforcement aligns with human rights standards, constitutional values, and the Rule of Law.
Jhalak Kakkar, Centre for Communication Governance, National Law University Delhi

Moving forward

For the Brazilian justice system, the next step is to facilitate more collaboration between the different court algorithms, according to Judge Paulo. To accomplish this, the Brazillian judiciary is looking to SINAPSES, an AI tool being transformed into a framework which can display past court decisions from various parts of Brazil. "We want to encourage a collaborative environment, empower teams and make projects gain years of progress and greatly increase the number of models that we can deliver in the coming years," Judge Paulo said.

In fact, any adoption of AI tools should be based on extensive collaboration, including public consultation with a broad cross-section of stakeholder groups from civil society, academic and technical experts, public sector institutions and the private sector, said Ms Kakkar.

An example presented was that of the UNESCO Global Judges Initiative, which has established institutional partnerships with regional and national courts, as well as with international associations of judges and prosecutors, in order to foster the respect for human rights and the rule of law at all levels.

According to UNESCO, digital technologies offer a potential to strengthen access to justice, but we need to ensure that technology is used in a manner that is inclusive, human rights based and context sensitive.

The dialogue explored possibilities for collaboration between legal tech entrepreneurs, lawyers and human rights experts in the Global South to enhance knowledge sharing and advocacy for responsible use of AI and digital technologies in justice systems.