I was recently involved in a technology-related dispute. When reading the mediation papers in preparation for the day, it made me reflect on how quickly technology has (and continues to) revolutionised the world around us. Every aspect of our personal and professional lives have arguably been changed by computer systems that allow us access to infinite levels of information at the touch of button. The integration of intelligent computer systems has changed the way government and business is conducted with endless possibilities of how services can be tailored more appropriately to its users. In this context, the British Government has for some time been using technology to make the processes that are used in the tribunal and court system in England and Wales more efficient and user friendly. Examples include introducing modern electronic case management systems, the installation of Wi-Fi, enhancing video links between police stations and prisons into courts, as well as equipping courts with the equipment they need to display digital material.
The approach adopted by the Government uses technology to enhance existing systems, which they undoubtedly have done. However another approach is to use IT to enable the delivery of services in entirely new ways. One of the many options that have been mooted, involves the introduction of online dispute resolution (ODR). There are many definitions of ODR but perhaps one of the broadest is when people use IT and the internet to help resolve disputes (this is distinct from computerisation of current case management systems). When a dispute is managed through ODR, the process of settling a dispute is largely done virtually. Due to its very nature, ODR is not appropriate for all classes of dispute, but it has been proven in many other countries to be utilised effectively to resolve relatively low value claims (see the below reference).
One of many opportunities available through utilising ODR is the earlier resolution of disputes through mediation rather than through more formal adjudicative methods involving a judge. The potential to use mediation in ODR has been recognised by the EU. Under their Regulation on Consumer ODR, the EU launches its ODR platform as of 15 February 2016 designed to allow consumers who have bought goods or services online and subsequently have a problem with that online purchase to find resolution through an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provider of which CEDR is one. The benefits of using ADR/ODR are numerous: The first is the potential for earlier and speedier resolution of disputes in a user friendly way which enhances access to justice; the second is the substantial savings in cost to the court system, by reducing the amount of small claim disputes brought to them.
Technology offers unlimited opportunity for innovation and the use of more cost efficient and user-friendly ways to resolve disputes should be fully investigated. I believe ODR offers to consumers a new hope for the future and that the force – of ADR – is awakening.