Sabah begins AI for data sentencing

Chief Justice Tan Sri Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat (left) and outgoing Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak, Tan Sri David Wong Dak Wah (second left) during the press conference on Wednesday.

KOTA KINABALU: The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for data sentencing has begun in Sabah courts, which is seen as a progressive move by the Malaysian judiciary to use the technology as a form of aid in meting out punishment.

The initiative, which was seen as an effort to achieve parity in sentencing, is currently only deployed for two offences in Sabah and Sarawak courts – Section 12(2) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 for drug possession and Section 376 of the Penal Code for rape.

However, there were already “protests” as a counsel during one of the cases heard argued that the application was a breach of two Articles of the Federal Constitution.

Article 5(1) states that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with the law, while Article 8(1) said all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.

Outgoing Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri David Wong Dak Wah attended the hearings of four out of 11 drug possession cases punishable under Section 12(3) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 here yesterday. Wong clocked out and officially ended his service as Chief Judge on the same day. He said such challenges against the use of the technology was something the judiciary had anticipated when introducing a new system.

“Lawyers are entitled to make objections. This is a new tool for the court; unless it is tested in court, we will not know whether it is constitutional or not.

“It is also not proper for us to say whether it is constitutional or not, as that means we will be giving our views while in office.

“We will let the objection take its course, the counsel concerned is entitled to take it further if he wants to. But when we launched it (AI for data sentencing), we expected this sort of challenge.

“Anything new which may infringe the rule of law or the Constitution – we have to take the challenge as it comes, ” he said.

In one of the cases, counsel Hamid Ismail represented Denis P. Modili, 43, who pleaded guilty to possessing 0.01g of methamphetamine.

Hamid proposed that sentencing be carried out without looking at the AI for the particular case, saying it was a breach of the two Articles.

“The court should confine to only materials presented in court.

“AI (use) is not in accordance with the law. Although the court can choose to ignore, I am afraid it might influence the decision, ” he argued, adding that the amount of drugs found on Denis was also very small and proposed the sentence be less than five months’ jail.

After noting the objection, magistrate Jessica Ombou Kakayun said the court would proceed with the AI use, which makes recommendations based on information derived from the court’s database between 2014 and 2019, and listened to arguments from both sides.

The AI proposed 10 months’ imprisonment.

Jessica sentenced the accused to 12 months’ jail, to run concurrently from his existing sentence of eight months from the date of arrest on Dec 16 last year.

Hamid said the defence would file an appeal to the High Court as it involved constitutional matters.

“Based on today’s events, I probably may oppose it in the future, ” he said in a written text reply when asked if he would be challenging the use of AI for sentencing in general outside of yesterday’s case.

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