Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Agenda 2014: Can Big Data & Analytics clean up India’s Judicial Mess?

As India moves towards the election year we need to look around the issues that we would like as a country to address that will help India to become a better place to live. India’s judicial system is one such place which has affected all of us. The current state of our judicial system is such that it takes decades to get a verdict and even worse are many million cases that have not seen the light of the day and it is difficult to see any hope for them.

A quick look into some statistics gives us a complete picture; we have more than three crores (30 million) pending cases at various courts. To add to litigants' woes, there's also a shortage of judges as vacancies are not filled: high courts have 32% fewer judges than they should and district courts have a 21% shortfall. India has approximately 11-12 judges per million persons, as opposed to the global average of around 50 judges per million.Some years ago, a Delhi High Court judge reckoned it would take more than 450 years to clear the backlog given then judge numbers.

Judicial Reforms

In order to address the problem plaguing Indian judicial system a range of Judicial reforms have been suggested. Some of the suggestions that are there in common discussion are
      ·         Setting up of more number of fast track courts to quickly resolve the cases

·         Improvement in Judicial Procedures

·         National Litigation Policy - The Centre has formulated a National Litigation Policy to reduce the cases pending in various courts in India under the National Legal Mission to reduce average pendency time from 15 years to 3 years.

·         Setting up of Judicial Appointments Commission


However after a lot of thought that have gone into these studies on judicial reforms a lot of them have tried to de-link the relation between the judge-population ratios and have pointed to the fact that the answers to streamlining the working of the judicial system are not to be found in resolving pendency by increasing the number of judges. They lie elsewhere, some of the suggestions that they have given are listed above. There seems to however one very critical factor missed by all studies done and that is the Technology factor. It must have found a mention somewhere here and there but no one goes into the detail of how exactly India can use its huge Information Technology capabilities to clear the mess in its judicial system. The answer may however be there in how to use make the correct use of Big data and analytics capabilities.

Big Data & Analytics

Big Data’ is a popular term used to the recent explosion in data, which is fuelled in particular by the ubiquity of the Internet and smartphones. Walking to the bus stop, writing a movie review, tweeting and liking something on Facebook are all common informal data streams. Information of all kinds is produced daily on an unimaginable scale. Conventional data conjures up ideas of surveys and research. The idea is to use this unprecedented amount of information to innovate and change our world. Big Data presents the opportunity to avoid troublesome issues causation, simply looking for correlations in the data to better understand our world. This shift represents one of the most fundamental changes to our society in recent years. Historically, we have been restricted by lack of information, whereas now we have abundance.

However, this data is no good without anything to make sense of it. This is where algorithms step in to frolic in massive data sets. The intelligent extrapolation from large amounts of data can be used to make sense of our world. Using analytics, correlations can help to predict earthquakes, divorce, elections, better allocate resources, optimize sporting endeavors, and revolutionize healthcare provision and countless other uses.

The question is whether this new explosion in data could provide a backdrop to a fundamental change in law. The probable answer is Yes, Big data works with huge volume of data and as I just mentioned above we have millions of resolved and pending cases. Therefore the technology that can be used to predict election results, can be used in medical transcription can definitely be used in the field of law.

Clinical v Mechanical Prediction

An article by Darragh Hyland and Owen Collins “Future of law” gives us an insight into this whole question. Lawyers are often asked to provide predictions. When it comes to prediction, there are essentially two possibilities available.
First -The clinical method. ‘From my experience and in my opinion, it is likely that you have a good/bad case.’ This method of handling data is informal and subjective. It is the method that prevails today. The legal expert determines from his opinion, experience and expertise the most likely outcome of the case before him.

The second approach is known as mechanical or actuarial prediction. With this method, we look to statistical means of prediction. The opinion of the lawyer is irrelevant in this context. Rather, the outcome is predicted by following an analysis of patterns ensconced in previously acquired case law and general legal data.

If you think this mechanical method sounds inflexible and entirely robotic, you are not alone. However, empirical research has consistently and definitively proven this type of prediction to be superior to clinical prediction. For our actuarial prediction we look for as large a data set as possible. This data would tell us about cases and how they were decided. More data means a better chance to find correlations.

Application Area
India should be seriously looking to explore this option and more discussions are required to identify the level till which this technology be used to help aid our judicial system. While some may argue that this should be limited to be used only for lawyers or law firms I see it having a role even on the desk of the judges at least in the lower courts. My argument stems in the fact that most of the court cases in the lower court are more about judicial procedures and the application of correct laws for a particular case. Say for e.g. take the case of thousands of pending accidental claims cases which usually takes 6-7 years to get a verdict however if we look closely into the case details we will see that it is investigation by the police (which gets ready within in matter of weeks) that remain as the most conclusive piece of document on which the judgment will be based. What if this assumption is verified by an analytic system which across millions of cases in the past is able to tell the judge and the lawyers that the party against which the investigation report was based lost the case in a majority number of times? Will the party who is supposed to lose the case will still spend a considerable amount of time and money on such a losing case?

The way Indian judiciary works we have lower courts, high courts and Supreme Court. It is however left to high courts and supreme courts to interpret the constitution and it is only there where a huge expertise of the constitution however at the lower court level big data and analytics can prove to be a major helping hand for judges, lawyers and the parties in the dispute. Analytics may be able to guide parties in dispute even before they come to the courts about their chances of winning or losing a case. It may also show the variation for a case won against all the odds as what were the extra pieces of evidence or legal data that were invoked in such a case.

Question of Quality – Judicial accountability
On the question of quality we need to look into perspective, to reduce the number of pending cases a huge number of fast track courts were set up. More than 1,000 fast track courts have disposed of more than three million cases in past few years however in order to achieve quick resolution did they compromised on quality ? Hasty trials raise fears of possible miscarriages of justice. But what if the fast track courts were given a helping hand in the form of big data technology where the judges took a leaf out of millions of similar cases to arrive to a quick judgment, definitely this will improve the quality of the judgment.
The technology may even flag a possible judgment as against the popular predictable judgment which happens a lot in cases being fought for the poor people. The judges may then have to give an extra explanation as why did they choose to give a judgment against the normal sense. While technology may not be binding it will introduce accountability in the system as the system will question on the wisdom of the judges. This may come as an extra benefit for the use of technology.

Roadmap for Future
What is suggested here is however bound to disrupt the way we see judicial system as of today but predictive coding is a disruptive innovation that will change how law is practiced. The magnitude of the problem gives us an opportunity where we can apply technology to the problem and come up with a totally innovative way to address this problem. Increasing the number of judges by too big a count is not the answer to our problems and it will create even more problems to deal with.

However even if we look to choose to adopt the technology there has to be ground work done, instant digitalization of our huge amount of legal data records will be the first step, so that the same information could be used to produce a pattern ( it is in addition to all the Judicial reforms suggestions mentioned above). Again this will require some funding, can this be done by private corporations? Again a different way of looking at problem but then if corporates are allowed to come in the judicial system will it not do good for the complete industry? We already have LPO’s doing similar kind of work being outsourced from outside can’t that strength be used to deliver things for our own country and in turn generate jobs and deliver quick justice. Will we be able to move in this direction? All I can say is that the time is ripe to start this debate.


  1. Was thinking on the same lines. Very apt blog

    1. Thanks Kiran , to hear this from you means a lot :) specially since you are working in the field of analytics :)