With judiciary embracing technology, time to push dispute resolution online

In light of the pandemic-induced foreclosure, the Supreme Court recently announced that hearings will now be held in urgent cases by videoconference. Legal experts see this as a spark that could usher in a large-scale infusion of technology into the justice system – a silver lining to the sinister pandidic Covid-19 cloud.

In 2005, an e-Committee created by the Supreme Court to plan the implementation of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the judicial system recognized an “urgent need for reengineering” of the judicial processes and the activation of ICT as “mission – critical”. However, a decade and a half later, much of this work remains in progress.

Experts say one area that could see mass adoption is Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), which would include the judiciary as well as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by parties that connect entirely online .

Deepika Kihnal, who heads the judicial reform team at the Vidhi Center for Legal Policy, is confident that the Covid-19 crisis will force a change in the way people see the RLL. “The legal sector is ultimately forced to adopt technology. With the industry embracing the technology, it is only a matter of time before disputes start to be resolved online, ”says Kihnal. She believes that this will lead to an increase in online ADR mechanisms, followed by the RLL annexed to the court.

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Kanchan Gupta, co-founder of the Center for Alternate Dispute Resolution Excellence, which works to provide a private online platform, is already seeing increased customer interest following the closure of the courts.

Experts say ODR cannot take off in India without the active work of government and the judiciary. “It is important that plans to digitize the justice system allow all actors in the justice system to exchange information digitally. This is best achieved by building a justice platform on open standards and modular principles, ”says Surya Prakash, scholarship holder and program director at DAKSH.

Prakash believes that if the government is to work actively to bring justice online, it must be careful not to engage with the ADR system and allow the sector to evolve on its own.

Recognizing that this cannot work in a regulatory vacuum, he suggests that the government could explore the possibility of eADR modules. “The recently formed Indian Arbitration Board could act as a technological standard-setting body to encourage institutional arbitration.”

Several private ODR platforms have also emerged in India in recent years. Kinhal, who also works as a political consultant for one of these platforms, says the government will have to work in unison with private entities. “The judiciary is already collapsing under the existing burden. The only way to resolve new age disputes, especially post-COVID disputes, in a timely manner, is to route them to ODR platforms. “

As a result of the international regime, the government could help eliminate concerns related to ODR platforms, such as the ability to provide impartial and fair dispute resolution, data protection, privacy and, most importantly, the character enforceable sentences, experts say. “To build public confidence in ODR platforms, the government must publish guidelines on minimum standards of fairness and data protection to which these platforms must adhere. With regard to the ODR capacity of the judiciary, the government must provide sufficient funds and expertise to help the gradual adoption of ODRs, “said Kihnal.

Gupta points out that although the law authorizes ODR mechanisms and gives freedom to arbitrators to take the resolution process online, the biggest obstacle is the lack of awareness. Experts suggest the government publish a list of accredited institutions and lobby for a change in policy requiring that civil disputes go through an ADR process first.

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