Enhancing the legal aid system for the under-trial prisoners through the lens of Artificial Intelligence

Undertrial prisoners are individuals who have been accused of a crime and are being held in detention while they await trial. One of the challenges with providing legal aid to undertrial prisoners is that many of them may be unable to afford a lawyer, and may not have access to legal representation. This can result in longer periods of detention, as well as an increased risk of wrongful convictions.

There are several organizations and initiatives that work to provide legal aid to undertrial prisoners. However, despite these efforts, there is often a significant gap in access to legal representation for undertrial prisoners. This can be due to a variety of factors, including a lack of funding, a shortage of lawyers willing to take on pro bono cases, and legal systems that are not designed to efficiently provide legal aid to these individuals.

Overall, the problem of legal aid for undertrial prisoners is a complex and ongoing challenge that requires the efforts of governments, non- profit organizations, and the legal community. With the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI), a lot has changed in the legal industry. It has made legal research, reviewing of documents, legal writing, legal analytics and the much- disputed litigation prediction very easy.1

Overall, the use of AI in the legal industry has the potential to significantly improve efficiency and accuracy, and to reduce the time and cost. A major advantage with the introduction of AI would be to the legal aid field. This article tries to focus on the importance of AI in the field of legal aid while providing justice to the undertrial prisoners by discussing the issues and attempting to provide probable solutions that could be implemented.

AI in providing legal aid to the undertrial prisoners
Till 2022, Uttar Pradesh has logged the highest number of under trial prisoners with 80,267 followed by Bihar with 44,113 and Madhya Pradesh with 31, 695.2 This totals to about 62% of the India’s total prison population.

Some of the common reasons for undertrial prisoners languishing inside prison for years is overcrowding in prisons, bureaucratic delays, lack of legal representation, slow pace of justice, inadequate pre- trial detention laws and political influence in some cases. But this can be worked upon.

The NALSA and the state machinery have set up an under- trial review committee in order to make sure that no person is to be detained beyond one- half of the maximum period of imprisonment for any particular offence while under trial.3 But the situation has not been any different. With the help of AI, an internal system can be created which shall have the record of every undertrial prisoner and the period for which he has been detained. This internal system will be helpful for the committee to give preference to those who have been detained for more than one- half year and accordingly take further steps for their release.

The importance of legal assistance is very necessary for those who are undertrial prisoners. This is because legal representation is necessary for them in order to know their basic rights. The court has explained the importance of Article 39 A of the Constitution which focuses on the free legal service which is regarded as an inalienable element of reasonable, fair and just procedure and that the right to free legal services is a right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.4 In another case, the Supreme Court has explained the importance of providing legal assistance by hiring a lawyer to an accused person.5 It is understood that an assignment of a lawyer is within 11 days from the day the application is made by the applicant. But sometimes it takes a month or more than that to assign a lawyer which causes unnecessary delay in the trial. Once a lawyer is assigned to the prisoner, it is very difficult to have the entire process of trial go smooth. This is so because the lawyers are negligent in causing the delay in the procedure. In order to avoid this, an AI system can be developed by the legal aid committee wherein the lawyer is given a reminder about the upcoming matter 2-3 days prior to the date. This will ensure that the lawyer does not miss on the date of the trial and helps the legal aid committee keep a check. If not, then the legal committee can impose either penalty on such lawyer depending upon the gravity of the case or remove him from the panel of legal aid committee or both. Apart from this, an AI system can also be created inside the prisons wherein the prisoners can communicate their concerns to their lawyers. This will help the committee keep a strict check on the lawyers.

It becomes a very tedious job to review lakhs of cases of each and every undertrial prisoner and identify those who may be in need of assistance. With the help of natural language processing6, it will help in automating the process of reviewing and summarizing legal documents which shall be helpful in providing legal aid to those in need.

Finally, AI could also be used to develop virtual legal assistants that could provide prisoners with access to legal information and resources, even if they do not have access to a physical lawyer. These virtual assistants could help prisoners better understand their legal options and rights, and could potentially even help them prepare for their court appearances.

The use of AI will be life changing for undertrial prisoners and also for the legal committee. The above- mentioned suggestions if implemented will make the justice system very smooth. Apart from the legal aid committee, these suggestions shall also be helpful for the legal industry in general. The long delay in justice, fair and reasonable trial shall help save an undertrial prisoner from wasting his most precious years of life.

By - Grishma Mahatme

  1. Samiksha Mehra, “Five Notable Applications of Legal AI in India”, indiaai, published on 1st July 2021.
  2. Kanu Sarda, “Majority prisoners in India are undertrials; accounts for 62 per cent of total prison population”, The New Indian Express, published on 6th February 2022.
  3. Ayushi Singh, “Under- trial prisoner’s access to legal aid”, India Justice Foundation, published on 31st May 2019.
  4. Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar, [(1980) 1 SCC 98]
  5. Khatri vs. State of Bihar, AIR 1981 SC 262
  6. Natural language processing is a subset of AI that processes natural human language either in text or voice.