It's not quite Judge Dredd, the comic-book hero who dispensed rapid (and often nasty) justice from his motorbike. More like Judge RAM: an intelligent computer program that sorts out roadside disputes.
The device, which is being used in Brazil, uses an artificial- intelligence computer program called Electronic Judge, and is carried in a laptop computer to the scene of an accident or dispute in a legal "rapid-response unit" with a judge and clerk, accompanied by police.
It can then take account of witness reports and forensic evidence to recommend a verdict. It can also issue on-the-spot fines, order damages to be paid and even suggest jail sentences. The Electronic Judge is presented with multiple-choice questions such as "Did the driver stop at the red light?" or "Had the driver been drinking alcohol above the acceptable limit of the law?"
Pedro Valls Feu Rosa, a judge in the supreme court of appeals in Espirito Santo state, who developed the program, said that the decision-making process in such simple cases required no difficult interpretation of the law.
"If we are concerned with nothing more than pure logic, then why not give the task to a computer?" he said. The Electronic Judge provides a print-out of its reasoning, and if the human judge disagrees, it can be overruled. Most people were happy to accept the decisions, said Judge Feu Rosa. But he admitted some did not realise they were being judged by a computer.
The device is part of a scheme called Justice-on-Wheels, intended to ease the burden on Brazil's overburdened courts by dealing at once with straightforward cases. Three judges are testing it in Espirito Santo, reports New Scientist magazine.
Judge Feu Rosa noted that there are advantages to settling a case on location: the human judge could see if witnesses had a clear view of an accident and perhaps check a vehicle's tyre marks, saving months of wrangling in court.
However, it may be some time before the Electronic Judge arrives in Britain.
A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's office, which oversees courts in England and Wales, said: "It would have to satisfy the authorities that it was absolutely foolproof first." And that, apparently, is the sort of verdict which only a human is considered capable of delivering.Reuse content