Judge, jury, and ChatGPT: Changing the legal landscape

In a landmark decision, the UK Judicial Office has given the green light for judges to use ChatGPT to assist in crafting legal rulings

The decision for this comes despite concerns that AI can generate non-existent cases or legal text. Official guidance from the Judicial Office, which has been distributed to thousands of judges across England and Wales, indicates that AI can be valuable for summarising large volumes of text or undertaking administrative tasks. 

However, it cautions that chatbots are not an appropriate approach for conducting legal research and are vulnerable to fabricating fictitious cases or legal documents. The guidance further warns of the potential widespread adoption of ChatGPT and other AI-powered tools by members of the public when filing legal cases, as well as the possibility of deepfake technology being used to create false evidence.

A significant shift in the system

This ruling marks a significant shift in the legal system's embrace of AI, although it does raise concerns about the potential misuse of the technology in legal proceedings and the increased need for safeguarding, to prevent the creation or dissemination of fabricated evidence.

When asking ChatGPT if it can provide legal advice, its response was the following: “No, I'm not able to provide legal advice. While I can offer general information and explanations about legal concepts, it's important to note that I am not a lawyer, and my responses should not be considered a substitute for professional legal advice.

“Legal matters are often complex and can vary based on specific details and jurisdiction. If you require legal advice or assistance, it's crucial to consult with a qualified attorney who can provide guidance tailored to your individual situation.”

The guidance's emphasis on the limitations of chatbots for legal research suggests that judges must exercise caution when using AI tools and carefully evaluate the reliability of the information they generate. Additionally, the potential for deepfake technology to be employed in legal settings underscores the need for enhanced verification procedures and heightened awareness of these emerging threats.

Sir Geoffrey Vos, the Master of the Rolls, said that AI “offers significant opportunities in developing a better, quicker and more cost-effective digital justice system. Technology will only move forwards and the judiciary has to understand what is going on. Judges, like everybody else, need to be acutely aware that AI can give inaccurate responses as well as accurate ones.”

The benefits and challenges of using AI

Earlier this year, a senior judge, Lord Justice Birss, described ChatGPT as “jolly useful”, saying he had used the chatbot to summarise an area of law he was familiar with, and copy and pasted it into a court ruling.

He said on Monday that he had used ChatGPT as a test and that it had been used within the guidance because he had not entered any secret or confidential information into it.

Sir Geoffrey explained that lawyers were potentially subject to perjury and criminal sanctions if submissions penned by a chatbot produced false evidence. “Nothing changes just because they may have got what they said falsely from an AI chatbot instead of out of their own head,” he said.

Integrating AI into the legal system offers both opportunities and challenges. While it can streamline administrative tasks and provide judges with access to vast amounts of information, it is crucial to address the potential for errors, biases, and misuse. 

Suid Adeyanju, CEO of cyber company RiverSafe says: “The rise of AI use in legal rulings brings with it great opportunities, but also opens the door to major cyber risks. Hackers have already proven adept at infiltrating and exploiting security loopholes to steal data, and in this scenario could also lead to widespread evidence tampering. It’s vital that organisations using this technology tread carefully, and ensure they have the necessary security systems in place to  keep cyber criminals locked out.”

As AI continues to evolve, the legal community must find ways to harness its capabilities while ensuring the integrity and fairness of justice proceedings.

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