Robot Justice: The Rise of China's 'Internet Courts'
China says millions of legal cases are now being decided by "internet courts" that do not require citizens to appear in court.
The "smart court" includes non-human judges powered by artificial intelligence, or AI.
People seeking legal action can register their case on the internet. They can then take part in a digital court hearing.
The system gives users the chance to communicate and receive court decisions by text or through major messaging services.
China's first internet court was established in the eastern city of Hangzhou in 2017. Hangzhou is a center for major Chinese technology companies. Last week, the country's Supreme People's Court released a report on the court's activities.
Users completed more than 3.1 million legal activities through the court system from March to October of this year, China's official Xinhua news agency reported. More than 1 million citizens were registered with the system, along with about 73,000 lawyers, the report said.
Judicial officials recently invited reporters to the Hangzhou Internet Court to see how it operates. In one demonstration, citizens used video messaging to communicate with virtual, AI-powered judges, the French press agency AFP reported.
"Does the defendant have any objection to the nature of the judicial blockchain evidence submitted by the plaintiff?" a virtual judge asked during a pre-trial meeting. The non-human judge was represented in the system by an image of a man wearing a black robe. "No objection," the human plaintiff answered.
A Hangzhou court official told China's state-run CGTN television the internet court system operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It is designed to ease the workload of humans and improve the speed and effectiveness of the legal process. Court officials say that even though virtual judges are used, human judges observe the process and can make major rulings.
The internet court in Hangzhou only deals with cases involving legal disputes over digital matters. These include internet trade issues, copyright cases and disputes over online product sales.
Digital court cases in China have seen a sharp increase in recent years, as the number of mobile payments and internet-based businesses has grown. The growth is tied to China's huge number of internet users — about 850 million.
Blockchain is one of the digital technologies used in the court system. Blockchain is the name for an official list of transactions carried out between users belonging to the same group of computers. The technology permits transaction records to be checked and stored safely.
Ni Defeng is vice president of the Hangzhou Internet Court. He told reporters the use of blockchain was particularly useful in helping to reduce paperwork and create clearer records of the legal process. Ni noted that he thinks the system's ability to provide quick results helps give citizens more quality justice. "Because justice delayed is justice denied," he said.
After establishing the court in Hangzhou, China launched similar operations in the cities of Beijing and Guangzhou. Courts nationwide are also experimenting with several digital tools, said Zhou Qiang, chief justice and president of the Supreme People's Court. He told reporters last week that as of October, more than 90 percent of Chinese courts were using some form of online tools to help deal with cases.
I'm Bryan Lynn.