September 2021


Technology to transform civil justice

by Resolve Editor Kate Tilley

The technology is available to transform the delivery of civil justice, but “we just need to be adventurous enough”.

So said Queensland Supreme Court Justice Martin Daubney, President of the Qld Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT), at the AILA Qld Insurance Law Intensive, themed Walking in another’s shoes.

He said in the Covid-19 environment we had become adept at using the online environment. The technology already existed but accessibility was the key. For some, particularly self-represented litigants, the infrastructure was lacking.

Justice Daubney said it was “always interesting to see people’s reactions in real life”, but there was no longer much faith in the “old-fashioned notion that a judge can tell if someone is lying by their demeanour”.

Ensuring public confidence in the justice system was important, which required effective management of the court system. “What may work for the judiciary and the profession may not work for clients, witnesses and lay people. They may not understand the difference between online and a formal court hearing. There may be a perception of a lack of gravitas.”

He praised the legal system for its response to the pandemic. QCAT moved quickly to using audio-visual equipment because its rooms were small and did not enable social distancing easily. Qld had provision for judge-only trials, but not all jurisdictions could do that.

“Covid has woken us up to the power of technology in our own hands.” Iphones had existed for only about 14 years but there were now 3.8 billion smart phones globally.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning were being used to a limited extent by the legal profession and “deep neural network learnings” had advanced in the last decade. “The more data, the closer the predictions become.”

Some respected legal academics saw a big future for AI in judicial decision making, but “not me”.

However, Justice Daubney sees a role for AI in online dispute resolution. Author Richard Susskind said there was a difference between automating existing processes and transformation to do new things with technology. He advocated a tiered arrangement for online courts.

Justice Daubney said such reforms were achievable, but required a new attitude about how justice was offered. He cited successful US and UK examples of online dispute resolution for small claims.

“The transformational approach is very suited to QCAT and could be adapted for many matters before the courts,” Justice Daubney said.

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the New Zealand Insurance Law Association.