Lower court judges are likely to be phased out and replaced by artificial intelligence systems, the International Bar Association’s annual conference heard this morning, as lawyers predict a ‘judge AI revolution’.

Professor Tania Sourdin, dean of Australia’s Newcastle University Law School, predicted that simple civil cases will be decided by computer systems in the future, rather than by human beings.

‘It seems to me that judges at lower court levels are likely to be phased out,’ Sourdin said at a virtual event on developments in AI and the judiciary.

‘It’s unlikely to happen in family and criminal areas, although AI will play an increasingly important role there…It has been suggested by some that more regulatory areas - for example taxation disputes - will be opened up to forms of AI, but it seems to me the most likely areas are the simple civil cases, possibly personal injury cases and certainly very simple contractual matters.’

Sourdin said that ‘supportive judge AI’, which creates template decisions for judges and assists with information gathering, will prove most popular. She added that in countries such as China, AI is already being used to 'nudge or correct' human decision makers.

‘China is a good example where the flood gates of litigation have opened and the capacity to manage a billion people’s disputes – especially when you have a new economy – is a significant driver of the judge AI revolution,’ Sourdin said.

Dinesh Dhillon, co-head of international arbitration at Singapore firm Allen & Gledhill, said matters that rely only on documents – such as debt recovery cases – could be decided by AI. However, he stressed that human beings are ‘very emotional creatures’.

‘Even if AI can get a decision 100% right, it’s a question of perception: is justice seen to be done for the end user? They usually want to ventilate. They want to let someone they feel would understand hear their case. How can AI actually do that?’

The IBA’s annual conference was due to be held in Miami this month. However, the event has gone ahead virtually and will finish on 27 November.