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Big Data Revolution In The Supreme Court

Rushda Khan
9 May 2021 6:22 AM GMT
Big Data Revolution In The Supreme Court

Since March 2020, virtual court hearings have changed the way we think about litigation and courts. What was earlier perceived as unrealistic has now become the only way to access justice in the courts of India. For the Indian judiciary, this decade will mark a transformative and pivotal phase as it moves towards greater technological integration. The Supreme Court in particular,...

Since March 2020, virtual court hearings have changed the way we think about litigation and courts. What was earlier perceived as unrealistic has now become the only way to access justice in the courts of India. For the Indian judiciary, this decade will mark a transformative and pivotal phase as it moves towards greater technological integration. The Supreme Court in particular, has functioned entirely virtually throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the past two years, Supreme Court's Artificial Intelligence committee has been working on deploying sophisticated and intelligent technologies in the court processes. The launch of the Supreme Court's Portal for Assistance in Court's Efficiency (SUPACE) last month, marked a watershed moment in Indian judiciary's ongoing experimentation with AI. Previously, in November 2019, an indigenously engineered neural translation tool, SUVAAS was launched by the Apex Court. It appears that the time for a futuristic judiciary has arrived in India and the Supreme Court is on its way to encashing what currently is the most important currency in the world i.e. Big Data.

What is Big Data

We who use the internet, create two and a half quintillion bytes of data on a daily basis. This is said to increase by a 50 per cent a year or more, doubling every two years as estimated by International Data Corporation.

The term Big data itself refers to massive data sets. These are data sets that are on the order of exabytes in size. To give a scale of reference, an exabyte is a million terabytes. Big data can be collected from every imaginable field that is able to be digitized. This "data flood" that is sweeping through our markets, businesses, academia and government is collected in huge volumes and tamed and analysed using computer and mathematical models for patterns and trends which in turn offer useful insights. Because of the valuable information that analysis of data provides, data itself is being seen as a new class of economic asset, like currency or gold or oil. This wealth of new data, in turn, has accelerated further advances in computing. At the forefront are the rapidly advancing techniques of artificial intelligence like natural-language processing, pattern recognition and machine learning.

The Indian Judicial system, since its inception, has been heavily dependent on books and documents. Thousands of cases are filed annually in the Indian courts – and the numbers are only rising. Each case requires tracking information on jurisdiction, rulings, precedents, interpretations of legislation, witness statements, court logs etc. With the inevitable digitization of these documents necessary for the virtual hearings of the courts, there has already been a creation of a vast treasure trove of unstructured data. With new tools like SUPACE and SUVAS, the Supreme Court has enhanced its ability to collect and process large amounts of data. In the future, these tools will prove useful for gleaning knowledge and insights in the court processes and will play a crucial role in case management and preparation.


SUVAAS and SUPACE demonstrate the first generation of AI technologies for the Indian justice system.

SUPACE can identify and extract various objective facts from the file like date, time, place of occurrence of event, etc. It can prompt questions and the answers relevant to the case. It allows the user to perform all the relevant tasks that are usually undertaken in a fragmentated manner in any word processing software.

SUVAAS translates judgments and other legal documents from English into nine vernacular dialects, and vice-versa.

Over time, these tools will be instrumental in easing banal administrative tasks which currently encumber judges. They will significantly helpreduce the time judges take perusing case precedents and applying them, and afford them more time to spend on their judicial responsibilities.

Many judiciaries of the world are now utilizing this technology to augment their adjudicatory capacity. Chief Justice S.A. Bobde who introduced Artificial Intelligence technology to the Supreme Court of India and is perhaps the founding father of this movement in the Indian judiciary has elucidated his conception for it. "For instance if a judge needs to know whether the blood group of the accused matches the blood group of the victim. He can undoubtedly find this out for himself by turning the pages of the paper book which will take some amount of time. The AI could get this information instantly in a matter of seconds and in addition could simultaneously display the arguments made about it any of the courts and the findings of each court.

It can also prompt for relevant data that a judge may have forgotten to ask, or a fact that a lawyer has forgotten to mention for his case which would otherwise be asked. Much like a pilot of an airplane conducting a routine check and ticking off things before take off i.e. prompt all relevant data so that the information available is sufficient for drawing the correct interference.

Much depends on the frequency with which AI is used and to use the technical term- how it is trained. There is no question of AI creating any redundancy in post at any level. For instance, all too important and regular task of making entries in the register with many many columns can be done by the AI with astonishing speed and accuracy which might not be possible for a human being. And with a degree of consistency without any errors. The only consequence which one can see today is that AI would cut down on the over work and over time which officers in the registry are subjected to."

Big Data and the Future of Lawyers

We are still in its infancy stage on big data and analytics in India, and there's still a lot of consternation in some corners about what big data and data analytics really is. But if we take a moment to consider this, it becomes easily apparent that legal practice revolves around huge amounts of ever increasing data. Lawyers and law firms deal with massive amounts of data in the form of books, paper work and documentation. When advising clients, lawyers derive their inputs from knowledge that they have acquired in their personal experience of practicing law over a period of time. This knowledge is in the form of unstructured data, and the analysis and insights it offers result from the lawyer's brain that has been trained in the process of a case over the years. Therefore, lawyers think their personal experience and judgement is so subjective that a computer tool could never perform their job. This is what we fundamentally mistake Artificial Intelligence to mean.

Tools like AI in no way eschew human beings. Instead, they provide a means to remove the rote and mundane tasks from a lawyer's job. For instance, manually distilling redundant or irrelevant data from the information that should be retained for the case from massive volumes of data could take weeks, months or even more to be completed. This can painlessly be completed in a matter of seconds by computing tools empowered by big data. These tools can be deployed to assess previous cases for outcomes and judgements, and assess the overall costs of similar matters to provide important data in order to arrive at an objective conclusion on whether a matter should be litigated or settled. And yet, without interfering with the subjective decision of a party to settle or not because computer tools cannot manipulate human decisions. It is akin to asking Apple virtual assistant Siri whether one should step out in the rain or not. Siri will bring forth all the information regarding the current rain status, whether there is an impending thunder storm or not, but ultimately it is the user's choice to make his decision to go out in the rain.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing are merely tools at a lawyer's hand that will supplement their experience, judgment, and decision-making process. Tools that offer insights and connections to their users that would otherwise perhaps not be as clear without access to data analytics and data expertise.

Large volumes of data by itself have no intrinsic value. Data only becomes valuable when it is mined and analysed into information that is relevant, and then crystallized from information into insight. It is insight derived from data that truly converts data to anything significant. Big Data is playing a big role in disrupting business that the legal industry serves. These businesses are already propelling themselves forward with computer tools empowered by big data. Perhaps with the introduction of computing tools in the Courts of India, it is time for the legal industry to take note of it.

Views are Personal

The Author is a Lawyer Practicing In The Supreme Court

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