The world is witnessing a situation of pandemic and the conditions are far from being normal even in the near future. The state of affairs is dreadful as social distancing and lockdown are the only measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 so far. The administration of justice in India has a history of being delayed and the coronavirus has made the situation even worse. Although the Supreme Court has allowed the online filing and hearing of cases, one cannot neglect the fact that the judiciary is already overburdened and heavily clogged with tons of cases. An improvised and efficient solution is required to ease pressure on courts and the answer to this can be Online Dispute Resolution or ODR.
Online Dispute Resolution – Means to Justice Amidst COVID-19
Online Dispute Resolution or ODR is a process to settle disputes outside courts, combining technology and alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) mechanisms. ODR covers disputes that are settled over the internet having been initiated in cyberspace but with a source outside it i.e. offline. Originally, arbitration was intended as an alternative to going to court for various kinds of disputes but with time the method itself has become complex and expensive.
ODR offers a faster, transparent and accessible option for many companies to resolve disputes online particularly those who have high volume and low-value cases. In the past half-decade, India has seen significant growth in the volume of online transactions, no other position would be more convenient to accept ODR as an efficient mechanism to resolve disputes and hence implement a fast and fair dispute resolution system.
Online Dispute Resolution can be seen as an online equivalent of ADR as it primarily involves the use of negotiation, mediation or arbitration for dispute resolution.
- Synchronous ODR is a method of dispute resolution where the parties communicate with each other in real-time by using various video-conferencing applications.
- The asynchronous form is where communication is not conducted in real-time but via email or other such communication applications.
- Online Mediation is coming out to be the most favourable form of dispute resolution with nearly 70% of ODR platforms using the same to reach a conclusion. Typically online mediation starts with sending an email to parties that contain basic information about the proceedings followed by virtual meetings to be conducted in the chat rooms.
- Electronic Arbitration is a less popular method of online dispute resolution but it cover-up the process up to a certain extent.
Every practicable method of ODR is unique and efficient to itself and the beauty is that it can be tailored as per the needs of the parties.
In recent times, a shift in the pattern of resolving disputes can be established as more and more ODR platforms have become operable in the country facilitating particular kinds of dispute resolution for many national and international companies. These ODR platforms have made easy the process of dispute resolution by combining the already existing process of ADR with cutting edge technology, making the process feasible and time convenient altogether.
- CADRE or Centre for Alternate Dispute Resolution Excellence is a website based platform for ODR. First, one party approaches the platform which then contacts the other party. If both the parties agree then an arbitrator is appointed and time-stamped intimations are sent through e-mails or WhatsApp. Usually, the parties do not meet face to face but they make contact electronically via video calls. The decisions that are legally binding come within 20-25 days of time. CADRE has been resolving tenant and rental contract disputes for NestAway an online home rental startup.
- SAMA is another ODR platform that facilitates easy access to high-quality ADR service providers and helps people to resolve disputes online. SAMA is being used as an ODR platform by ICICI Bank to resolve nearly 10,000 disputes with values going up as high as INR 20 lakh.
- CODR or Centre for Online Dispute Resolution positions itself as an institution that will administer cases online end to end.
- AGAMI is yet another non-profit ODR platform that aspires to create a better system of law and justice by providing time-efficient and feasible dispute resolution methods.
Globally ODR witnessed a boom with the e-commerce sector when E-bay and Paypal started resolving their disputes online. Countries like U.S.A, China, Brazil and some European Union nations have already adopted the ODR mechanism by constituting their separate platforms to resolve disputes arising out of e-commerce transactions. Millions of disputes have already been dealt with successfully without even filing a single suit in a traditional court of law. It is a proven fact that technology improves with time and technology being the main ingredient of different ODR methods, it is certain that ODR will come up with new and more desirable techniques.
In India, ODR is still in its infancy stage but it is just a matter of time before ODR is adopted at a large scale in India. The electronic form of dispute resolution tries to enable new possibilities that were previously unavailable such as the virtual simultaneous presence of all the parties without needing personal attendance at a particular place and time.
With 4.5 million cases pending in high courts, 31 million cases pending in district courts and 350,000 backlogs in the top 5 central tribunals, without a doubt we are in need of more and more ODR platforms and to come up to the rescue. ODR mechanism being simple and effective has the potential to come into mainstream dispute resolution systems and the acceptance of it cannot be called into question. In the near future, ODR will not only serve as a platform for quick disposal of cases but also as an area of employment for thousands of arbitrators or advocates.