Digital Litigation

The introduction of online courts in England and Wales has recently received a strong recommendation in a report produced by the Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Advisory Group of the Civil Justice Council. The proposed online courts are to be used for civil claims of less than £25,000 and are aimed at improving the current system which is “too costly, too slow and too complex” for low value claims.

The ODR model explained in the report involves a three-tier process. Tier One, “Online Evaluation”, will assist users to understand their problem and the options available to them. This will be at no cost and it is expected that a better understanding of the problem will avoid immediate legal action or similar problems arising in the future. Tier Two, “Online Facilitation”, aims to use experienced ‘facilitators’ to advise, negotiate and mediate in order to achieve a resolution. This will involve a fee, although the approximate level of the fee has not indicated at this stage. Tier Three, “Online Judges”, will utilise full-time and part-time judges to decide cases based on documents submitted electronically. The decisions reached will be awarded the same status as any judgment or decision made in a traditional court. Again, this will involve a fee but one “much lower than in today’s courts”, although no indication has been provided for exact cost to the user.

–         eBay’s ‘court’ system

The process has drawn inspiration from similar operations around the world, most notably eBay. To resolve disputes on eBay, the parties are initially encouraged to resolve the matter via online negotiation. If that fails, then eBay offers a resolution service, in which the parties present their respective arguments in a discussion area and a member of eBay’s staff determines the matter in accordance with guidelines.

The ODR Advisory Group has stated, somewhat defensively, that, “ODR is not science fiction”. The proposals, however, have already garnered support from the Law Society and HM Courts and Tribunals Service with ODR being identified as an important area that deserves recognition and further serious consideration.

If introduced, there is a potential time and cost saving for those individuals and small businesses who are regularly seeing themselves embroiled in court action over amounts less than £25,000. If you would like more information about this process or if you require assistance, please contact our litigation team.

Article written by Danny Patel, Solicitor in our Dispute Resolution team