Malaysian Bar troubled over judges using AI for sentencing

PETALING JAYA : The Bar Council has expressed reservation over the judiciary’s move to implement a sentencing guideline using artificial intelligence technology among lower court judges to determine the measure of punishments.

Its criminal law committee co-chair Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali said they were not made aware that the plan would be executed on a pilot basis in selected courts from next week.

“We were not given the guideline at all and we have lost the opportunity to get feedback from criminal law practitioners,” he told FMT.

Rafique said he was troubled by its implementation as there was a likelihood of judges conducting a technical exercise in the process.

“There are human factors involved before imposing punishment. The thought process of the judge is important after having considered the mitigating and aggravating factors of a crime,” he said.

Lawyers are concerned whether the AI technology would also take into consideration the family background of the accused, among other things, when determining the punishment.

Rafique said this in response to a statement by the Federal Court chief registrar’s office that the sentencing guideline using the technology is intended only as a quick guide and reference for sessions court judges and magistrates.

The system would be implemented at the Kuala Lumpur and Shah Alam lower courts from July 23, involving 20 common offences, including physical and sexual assault, theft of property, drug possession and traffic violations.

The Bar Council’s criminal law committee co-chair Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali.

According to the statement, the second phase of the system would be implemented from August to December 2021 but would include more offences. However, it did not specify what  these offences would be.

The final phase, from January to April next year, would involve other recorded offences in the e-Justice System.

The statement noted that the system had been developed and adopted in Sabah and Sarawak since last year.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Bar’s immediate past president Salim Bashir said the system did not take off last year in the peninsula as it had its weaknesses.

“I hope the stakeholders will be consulted as some of the offences carry the minimum mandatory jail term which requires the human touch by way of oral submissions,” he said.

Senior lawyer Kitson Foong feared that accused persons would prefer contesting the charges instead of pleading guilty and getting harsh sentences.

“It is going to take more time and resources from all parties involved should a trial be held,” he said.

The lawyer is unsure if the system using computers would also consider the family background of the accused and the welfare report of children before sentence is handed down.

Foong also asked whether the system would enable lawyers to plead for binding-over orders for first-time offenders.

“At the end of the day, judges must temper justice with mercy because punishment must also be aimed at rehabilitation,” he said.

By : V Anbalagan – FMT

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