Robot laws: First barrister to use AI in Old Bailey murder trial urges government to push forward cutting edge tech
The first barrister to use an Artificial Intelligence (AI) tool in an Old Bailey murder trial has called on the UK’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to invest in the cutting edge technology.
Sally Hobson, a criminal defence barrister at London chambers The 36 Group, told City A.M. AI tech has the potential to “save huge amounts of time and money” inside the criminal bar.
Hobson explained barristers are currently forced to “spend hours and hours trawling through page after page of useless information” while working on cases.
She noted barristers face dealing with “thousands of pages of material” including emails, WhatsApp messages, police interview transcripts, and telephone records, when preparing their cases.
Currently, this work is for the most part carried out manually, without the use of search tools that let lawyers quickly find specific terms.
“It’s a complete waste of our time doing that,” Hobson said, as she explained AI tools, such as the Luminance software used in the Old Bailey trial, allows barristers to automate this work.
AI driven programmes let lawyers upload all case material – including handwritten records – onto a single platform that is then entirely searchable.
The Old Bailey trial in which the AI tech made its debut saw 41-year-old James Watson given a life sentence for the murder of a six-year-old boy in 1994.
Watson had evaded justice for decades for the murder he committed when he was 13 years old, before DNA evidence revealed he had been in contact with the victim on the day he was killed.
Hobson said using the AI tech in the murder trial came as a “revelation” as she claimed she had “never used anything like it before”.
Hobson is now calling on the UK government to invest in AI technology to boost efficiency at the criminal bar, as it continues to deal with one of the largest crises it has faced in decades.
“We need a platform that will allow us to work more easily and work more efficiently,” Hobson told City A.M.
The lawyer’s call comes just months after criminal defence barristers launched a months long strike last year, before securing a 15 per cent increase in legal aid fees.
Hobson said AI tech has the potential to ease the ongoing legal aid crisis, in cutting barristers’ workloads and improving their efficiency.
“If they put investment into using software like this it would in the long term save huge amounts of money and time,” Hobson said. “It would be incredibly useful”.
“It has to be the way forward, because we know that it’s there and we know we can use it,” she continued. “The problem is it’s not being used.”
All in all, Hobson was clear that if she was on trial, she would without doubt pick AI-backed lawyers over those carrying out their work the “old-fashioned way”.
“I definitely would because I’ve used it,” Hobson said. “I know how advantageous it is.”
An MoJ spokesperson said: “We are already investing millions in digital technology for the legal sector, including our recent £4m funding boost to LawtechUK which is driving forward modernisation and innovation in our courts system.”