• April 20, 2024
 ChatGPT used to generate ‘alarming’ fake cases in high-profile Vancouver divorce highlights the danger of accidental misuse of AI tools in court

Millionaire Wei Cheng claimed he earned his fortune prior to his marriage – meaning he wasn’t liable for spousal support

ChatGPT used to generate ‘alarming’ fake cases in high-profile Vancouver divorce highlights the danger of accidental misuse of AI tools in court

British Columbian lawyer Chong Ke has been ordered to pay costs to a claimant’s lawyers after it was discovered that the use of AI tool ChatGPT was used to accidentally fabricate cases for her client in a high-profile divorce battle between Chinese business tycoon Wei Chen and his ex-wife Nina Zhang.

If the cases had been real, they would have provided millionaire Chen with persuasive criterion to take his children to China for visitation after accusing his ex-wife of ‘child abduction’ after she moved from Shanghai to Suzhou in March 2015 prior to their divorce.

The rancorous divorce case, which includes ‘allegations of family violence’ and claims of ‘infidelity on the part of Chen’ has seen squabbles over minor details whereby even the date of separation has fallen under dispute – with the claimant stating the pair separated ‘in 2019’ and the respondent rebutting organ instructor Zhang saying the uncoupling was ‘in 2020’.

CBC News reported that ‘in a first for Canada’, the use of AI tools in the courtroom were reprimanded – dubbed a ‘hallucination’ by the judge. This follows on from the widely publicised Manhattan case in June 2023 which saw US lawyers Steven Schwartz, Peter LoDuca and their law firm Levidow, Levidow & Oberman ordered to pay $5,000(£3,935) after the use of ChatGPT generated fake citations in six cases against against Columbian Airline Avianca.

Millionaire Wei Cheng claimed he earned his fortune prior to his marriage – meaning he wasn’t liable for spousal support

In an application filed to the Vancouver Supreme Court last December, Ke presented two notices of application that cited Zhang ‘took her child aged seven to India for six weeks’ and ‘an application to take a nine-year-old child to China for a month to visit her parents and friends.’

However, during the application process, Ke withdrew the cases after it was revealed they were false. British Columbian Supreme Court Judge David Masuhara stated on February 23rd this year,  that he ‘did not believe the lawyer intended to deceive counsel,’ but the use of ChatGPT in such a case was ‘alarming’. Despite this, Ke is still liable to pay costs to Zhang’s lawyers.

Zhang’s lawyers were determined to seek special costs for reprehensible conduct, which the judge dismissed, stating that Ke’s apology was ‘sincere’. The lawyer admitted to being ‘mortified’ at the mistake.

Masuhara said: ‘These observations are not intended to minimize what has occurred, which- to be clear- I find to be alarming. Rather they are relevant to the question of whether Ms Ke had an intent to deceive, in light of circumstances, I find that she did not.

‘If any materials filed or handed to the court contain case citations or summaries which were obtained from ChatGPT or other AI tools, she is to advise the opposing parties and the court immediately.’

During the Manhattan case The Guardian reported that ‘Judge P Kevin Castel said in a written opinion there was nothing “inherently improper” about using artificial intelligence for assisting in legal work, but lawyers had to ensure their filings were accurate.’

Last year, UK firm SG Murphy Solicitors conducted a study that revealed that AI chatbots were ‘not accurate’ and ‘can not yet rival divorce lawyers’. 

In October of last year the UK Government held a global summit to discuss the risks, rewards and challenges of using AI technology in several key industries.

When using AI effectively within a law firm the SRA recognises that fast-moving AI can drive new risks and challenges for regulation and as part of its work, it will consider the effectiveness of introducing a new regulatory sandbox, enabling those it regulates to test innovative products and initiatives in a safe space.

In terms of the SRA’s regulatory requirements, individuals and firms must provide services to clients competently, considering clients’ specific needs and circumstances.

In the case of Zhang vs Chen, the significant disputes over financial support, property and business ownership and visitation the ChatGPT blunder had the potential to cause significant harm to the case, despite being ruled as accidental. Had the errors not been spotted in time, the outcome of the case could have been notably different.

Last year, claimant Zhang, of West Vancouver, sought retroactive and prospective interim child and spousal support against respondent Chen, who was alleged to have ‘an ultra-high net worth of between $70M and $90M'(£55M-71M) through his various business ventures. Currently he holds the title of CEO of Shanghai Shengchang Pipeline Support Engineering Co. Ltd(SSPSECL) and owns shares in other corporate holdings. The businessman claims that he earned the majority of his wealth prior to the relationship and that many of his assets are held in trust. Based on the information available, evidence was seen that Chen presently holds shares in nine Shanghai based companies.

The validity of the agreement set out in the Chinese court in 2016 has been questioned, but upon examination of court documents 61 properties have been said to be co-owned by Chen and Zhang during their marriage. The Chinese court also stated that SSPSECL was founded in 2009, after the marriage.

Zhang and Chen, both Chinese nationals, have three children together aged eight, 10 and 12. In an agreement in 2016 after discontinued divorce proceedings in their native China it was agreed the respondent would pay the claimant $1M(£788,900) a year. Upon re-visiting the agreement Zhang sought child support pursuant to the Federal child Support Guidelines and spousal support based on Chen’s estimated income of $2,762,0000(£21,800,466) per year, and $100,000(£78,930) for herself. Zhang moved to Vancouver in 2018, with Chen’s older child from a previous marriage who is currently 20-years-old. Zhang said her step-child wanted to ‘pursue an education in Canada’. Chen argues that his ex-wife didn’t ‘provide sufficient funds for her family to live comfortably in Canada’ and says he remains a ‘committed father who visits his children in Vancouver’.

mediation increases but courts under strain
In the Supreme Court of British Columbia Master Robertson ordered that spousal support be paid by SSAG guidelines and child support also be paid by guidelines by Wei Chen and that he was also liable for the claimant’s legal fees

Chen states that he pays £5,000(£3,945) a month to support his eldest child’s university education in York and that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a ‘significant impact on the construction industry in China’, adding that he owes $3.7M in debt to his mother and another family member. He strongly opposed any financial support based on any income above $155,000 (£122,341) as provided on his statement.

Zhang, whilst admitting that the pandemic had an impact on business, that such a momentous drop in income ‘offends common sense’. At present the claimant’s income is from investment properties that she owns and had a salary of $200,000(£116,720) Canadian Dollars a year from organ tutoring until 2016. She wishes to uphold the standard of living that the family are used to – which includes expenses of $53,000(£32,925) a month, $3,000(£1,750.50) a month for holidays and $500(£291.70) a month for a private driver for the children.

Historically, the respondent would transfer money in the claimant’s bank account to cover her and the Children’s expenses. The amounts would vary, however, in March 2019 he stopped doing that and, instead, waited for the claimant or the Children to ask him to pay for an expense. While the evidence was not set out in an orderly way, it appears that prior to this litigation starting, a few hundreds of thousands of dollars were sent per year by the respondent upon request.

Chen says that he acknowledges the family’s high standard of living, listing several luxury items as his contribution to his ex-wife’s living cost including two pianos, a £47,316 Tiffany necklace he purchased, luxury handbags valued at over £100K, furniture and a £23K diamond ring.

Despite a lack of relevance in relationships with a duration of over a decade, Chen says that Zhang ‘brought little’ to the relationship and did not financially contribute.

Closing the case, Master Robertson ordered: On an interim and without prejudice basis, the respondent’s income is imputed at $1,000,000 and the claimant’s at $200,000.On an interim basis, the respondent shall pay the claimant support in the amount of $16,062, that being the amount required under the guidelines; and spousal support at the mid range of the SSAG amounts, based upon the parties’ incomes, and child support based on a marriage date of September 25, 2008 and a separation date of March 25, 2019.



Eve Tawfick, Editor

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