Computerized Judicial System

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Societies in the future, particularly in older media or modern works with elements of Retraux, are sometimes depicted as having a computerized justice system. Part of the use of this trope is for shock value (to modern audiences accustomed to more humanistic values underlying their familiar legal systems); the other part of it is to reinforce that the setting is either The Future, Twenty Minutes Into the Future, another planet, an Alternate Universe, or some other futuristic or otherworldly setting. Occasionally, a variant will even show up in the Present Day. Sometimes, but not always, a symptom of a futuristic Kangaroo Court, as computers can be programmed by human beings to distort the truth or cover up.

What role computers play in the actual trial can vary considerably. Usually the computer is either the Judge, Jury or both. Computerized prosecution is also common, somewhat more so than a computer playing the role of Defense Attorney (though these show up, as well, from time to time).

Examples of Computerized Judicial System include:

Comic Books

  • The Mechanismo arc in Judge Dredd features robotic versions of the Megacity One Judges, empowered exactly as the Judges were under the Judicial Code, to be judge, jury and executioner. Inevitably, they malfunction and massacre innocent civilians.


  • Demolition Man had omnipresent computerized speech monitors that fined citizens for uttering profanity.


  • Several of Frank Herbert's Con Sentiency stories mention a "robo legum" court which is apparently run by a computer, includng Whipping Star and "The Tactful Saboteur".
  • Alan E. Nourse's "The Bladerunner". When Billy Gimp is arrested for blade running (handling black market medical supplies), he's tried and sentenced by a computer court system.
  • Anne McCaffrey's Crystal Singer novel Killashandra. Near the end of the book Killashandra's boyfriend Lars Dahl is given a computer-controlled trial for kidnapping her as well as other charges. She has forgiven him and wants him to be acquitted, but the Judicial Monitor computer's equipment mistakenly reads her as being afraid of him and finds him guilty of one of the charges. Eventually he's cleared of the charge and he and Killashandra get back together.
  • Little Brother: a short story and an episode of the miniseries Masters of Science Fiction (aka Stephen Hawking's Sci Fi Masters) a machine called "Court" or "judge" is made up of about a thousand brains in jars; curiously enough there is only a judge and a defender, not a prosecuting AI.
  • A short story, Computers Don't Argue, by Gordon R. Dickson: someone eventually got executed because the computerized justice system (actually the joke was that the entire society was computerized) thought he had "Kidnapped" someone named "Robert Louis Stevenson", when all he did was get the wrong book from a publishing company, and it kept trying to charge him, and things just went Off the Rails from there.
  • In The Demolished Man, it is revealed in the end that their system of justice involves a computer which reviews the case and decides in minutes if the person is guilty or not. Note that it is not a Kangaroo Court, as the computer is very tough to convince. You need real evidence someone is guilty, indeed the need to find the evidence drives Powell's actions (and the plot).
  • Geese, Geese, Gagaga by Vladislav Krapivin has an unusual variation, in that every misdemeanor down to jaywalking incurs a chance of capital punishment and then lottery draws someone as an example to the rest. No prison expenses, court is mostly automated, and there's not much room for appellation. There's a system of body markers guarantees location, so Resistance Is Futile - the police only needs to chase the felons, an upright citizen simply receives a notice in the mail when and where to go, and it's all handled comfortably and without red tape or hassle, from heirloom matters to injection. The protagonist crossed the street at a wrong place, was identified and "fined" with 1:1,000,000, both he and the traffic policeman only chuckled at this, and then he joked about it with friends, because it's hard to take more seriously than possibility of being hit by a stray meteorite - some even claim 1:1,000,000 cases are quietly dropped, because actually processing them would have cost without any benefit to anyone. So, of course, he was quite surprised to find that filled blank in his mailbox. Then the process goes laughably pear-shaped, and he found out how this system in practice doesn't work as advertised, and every part of it (especially those out of sight) is broken.

Live-Action TV

  • Max Headroom, set Twenty Minutes Into the Future in a Crapsack World, featured computerized trials on floppy disk!
  • The TV Movies that began the Lexx series showed that Kangaroo Court computerized trials where the judge, prosecution, and defense were all played by standardized holographic bureaucrats were a regular part of life under the Divine Order of the League of 20,000 Planets, or at least life on the Cluster, the League's capitol.
  • During Travis' military tribunal on Blake's 7, the roles of prosecution and defense are filled by human beings, but the "Judgement Program" or something similar processes the disposition of the accused. The Terran Federation was, of course, consistently depicted as totalitarian.
    • A "judgement machine" was also referred to in Blake's civilian trial in the pilot episode, "The Way Back."
  • In a rare subversion, in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Court Martial," the USS Enterprise computer is used to prove Kirk's innocence (trials in the Federation typically being conducted by sentient organic beings, not computers).
    • Digital Witness?
  • The Doctor Who serial The Stones of Blood features the Megara, Justice Machines who take the place of judge, jury and executioner and can Mind Probe witnesses to be certain of the truth. They frequently converse with each other during the trial in machine code and regard the involvement of actual organics in the judicial process as a tedious necessity.
  • The Red Dwarf episode "Emohawk: Polymorph II" featured a robotic Space Corps Enforcement Orb who had been tracking the crew and Starbug for some time on charges of looting and illegal salvage. Due to the distance from formal legal proceedings Enforcement Orbs are empowered to pass judgement and mete sentence (death in this case) on the spot.
    • "Justice" featured a space station that was a prison. The station was administered by The Justice Computer, who mind probed everyone entering to determine if they were hiding a criminal act and immediately rendered judgement on them.
  • Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger and their American counterpart Power Rangers SPD have equipment that allows them to instantly determine the guilt or innocence of the accused.

Tabletop Games

  • Star Frontiers module SF1 Volturnus, Planet of Mystery. All of the laws of the Eorna civilization were entered into special computers. The computers control the robot police and act as judges in all civil and criminal cases.
  • Paranoia. To the extent that any Alpha Complex citizen receives due process at all, the Computer usually presides over any formal trials that occur. This often occurs during post-mission debriefings when Troubleshooters accuse each other of treason.
  • Feng Shui presents this as yet another feature of the Dystopian world of 2056.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons: When Homer's car is abandoned in New York City he calls in to challenge the tickets.

Pleasant female voice: To plead 'not guilty,' press `one' now. Homer dials one Thank you. Your plea has been...
Male rough voice: Rejected.
Pleasant female voice: You will be assessed the full fine plus a small...
Male rough voice: Large lateness fee.

  • In The Jetsons episode "Millionaire Astro", the Jetsons are involved in a custody battle with Astro's original owners. In court, the "jury" was a computer called the Jury-vac; it had 12 volume unit meters.
  • The Futurama episode "Fear of a Bot Planet" the judge in the trial is an old Apple Macintosh.

Real Life