A monster unleashed

A litigant in person goes all the way and abuses the justice system. Would introducing more tools to help them encourage such abuse?

Feature Image by he zhu / Unsplash

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing when it’s in the wrong hands.

A case has captured the attention of Singaporeans, which is remarkable for what it wants. A man, spurned by a woman, sues a woman for a breach of contract, defamation, loss of profits and negligence, claiming over $3 million in several lawsuits. When asked how they could settle the claims, he wanted a letter of apology and to continue developing on “individual shortcomings” together.

AWARE, the leading gender equality advocacy group in Singapore, issued a statement on this case:

Women do not owe men their time or attention, much less their friendship, love, sexual activity or emotional labour. Attempting to demand or coerce these things, via legal means or otherwise, can constitute harassment.

I can’t imagine the stress the woman is going through for this, so her resilience is laudable. Lawyers can dismiss this because of their background, but the effect of seeing difficult words like “defamation” and “letter of demand”, or seeing correspondence from a court, can give someone trauma and pressure.

Guess what? He might have been able to pull this off because he is a litigant in person. Who cares if the Court isn't able to give you what you want or if no one wants to represent you? Having a few difficult words in your vocabulary, knowing how to send a fierce letter and how to file a claim in court is all you need.

You can read the judgement here if you want.

Litigants in person (LIP) occupy a strange position in our justice system. It's difficult, like piloting a plane when you have only seen the cockpit once. Infrequent users need more time and leeway to get the process right. Courts make an effort to ensure that they can see that there is fairness in proceedings. Often, judges implore lawyers to help them, even if they are on the opposite side. The issue is severe enough to warrant its book.

Even so, there are more materials to help you along the way. Like Google, and its latest challenger, ChatGPT. If you believe the hype, you can even get AI to write your pleadings and any other court document once you prompt it well enough. If you screw up, plead your layman’s ignorance before the judge, and promise not to do it anymore until you’ve done it again. These infrequent users of the justice system have no long-term interest in it.

I am sceptical about the laws regarding unauthorised practice, and lawyers who diss tech tools might be putting down technology for their interest. However, we can’t be too romantic about who gets access to justice. There will be users who will use the information they can get to harass, mislead, or coerce others.

As I am writing my AI chatbot, I wonder if I have any responsibility to ensure that whatever information or advice it issues is used responsibly. Maybe the chatbot can say that alternative dispute resolution methods should always be considered or that the justice system should not be used that way. The chatbot can persuade, but it can’t control.

Whatever it is, it seems to be an excellent strategy to try my best to ensure tools that I develop don’t unleash a monster. Having a good reputation in a space that is often ethically challenged is a big asset.

This case shows that other actors in the justice system have better control of such abuse. I am impressed that the judge, in this case, declined to take the easy way out by following the letter of the law and prolonging everyone’s misery. The court should be more open to examining the intentions of litigants and stomping out egregious, abusive cases.

This is a better solution than the unauthorised practice of law or lawyer licensing anyway.

Author Portrait Love.Law.Robots. – A blog by Ang Hou Fu