My RSS feeder popped up an AFP headline a few minutes ago: “Software does judge’s job in China.” No way, I thought, and clicked through to the article, which was totally conveying the impression of yes way:
BEIJING (AFP) – Judges are not usually at risk of losing their jobs to modern technology but that may be changing in China, where new software is handing down sentences automatically.
The Zichuan District Court in east China’s Shandong province has installed programs on judges’ computers that provide advice on the proper verdicts in criminal cases, the state-run China Daily reported.
The move appears to be aimed at ensuring standardized decisions and addressing common complaints that China’s judges are ill-trained, corrupt and make arbitrary rulings.
“We aim to establish a regular sentence pattern for criminal trials to avoid different penalties for the same crimes,” said Wang Hongmei, chief judge at the court.
Many judges in China have not received a college education and lack sufficient training in law, although the government has made efforts in recent years to raise the professional standard.
In the Shandong experiment, judges simply enter the relevant details of the crimes plus mitigating circumstances — and the program immediately comes up with an appropriate verdict, according to the paper.
But the penalty calculator will not have the final say. Judges will retain the power to hand down their own sentences, depending on circumstances they deem particular to a case.
This sounded way too weird and arbitrary even for China’s court system, so I looked for a Chinese article to see what the deal was. According to a very cursory (i.e., two-second) glance at “量刑软件”会不会“腐败,” (“Can sentencing software be ‘corrupted?'”) it turns out that the wussies are only granting the cold, soulless machines dominion over the sentencing process.
That is to say that the computer will consider the factors of the case and make a recommendation for the sentence/fine amount, thus making that part of the process less arbitrary, but the actual verdict in the case will still be as arbitrary as ever.
Still, this is an important step forward for China’s judicial system, and I look forward to the day when all trials can be judged purely by computer:
“The court will now hear the case of –”
“This is a violation of my constitutional rights!”
- UNRECOGNIZED INPUT: 'CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS'
“I’m going to appeal this! I’ll take it to Amnesty International!”
- FATAL ERROR.