Friday, 23 January 2015

The case for and against an online dispute revolution

The internet, the modern means for doing almost anything, but what about solving disputes?

Online Dispute Resolution (‘ODR’) already exists (in relation to starting a claim only) in some forms e.g. money claim online. However, this year, an advisory group set up by the Civil Justice Council are going to explore the possibility of expanding ODR for disputes under £25,000.

Canada and the Netherlands currently offer systems of ODR and many have been using the popular auction website eBay's ODR system successfully for a number of years, resulting in over 60 million resolved disputes. So, is it time for us to jump on the bandwagon too?

It is easy to see the benefits of ODR, which aims to make the civil justice system more accessible, cost-effective and quick through e-negotiation and e-mediation.

Convenience is a substantial benefit of ODR, as disputes can be resolved from the comfort of one’s home where communication between both sides and mediators can occur at a flexible pace. This gives parties time to think carefully about what they want to say, eliminating the risk of things being said in the heat of the moment.

A further benefit from the extension of ODR will be to the courts that continually struggle with an increasing caseload. ODR will remove minor disputes and free up valuable Court resources.

Despite the benefits, ODR will also have disadvantages. One of the main benefits of mediation is face to face communication, allowing parties to show emotions connected with disputes and gauge each other's reactions. This element of human interaction often helps bring disputes to an end, which may mean that ODR may become harder to resolve.

Opponents of ODR argue that it creates a two tier system for solving disputes: one cheap and cheerful and the other expensive and exclusive. But this may not be a bad thing?

For substantial matters solicitor involvement and traditional court services are vital. However, for smaller disputes, solicitors’ involvement and court fees can often become disproportionate. Some argue that ODR is a technique to edge out lawyers but already many people with smaller disputes represent themselves as litigants in person. The expansion of ODR could implement a simple system to help those in these circumstances, not taking work away from solicitors but improving the system for those who would have never paid solicitors fees anyway.

ODR’s most substantial problem is that it assumes all parties will have internet access. An Office for National Statistics report in 2013 stated that 73% of adults in Great Britain accessed the internet every day, but what about the rest?  How many adults never have any access to the internet?  In addition, access to the internet is very different to having the ability to utilise any online system set up by the Civil Justice Council.   

As use of the internet expands, it seems logical to create efficient mechanisms of dispute resolution through this entity. Certainly for substantial or complex disputes, the traditional systems are required but an alternative ODR system for minor disputes will undoubtedly extend access to justice for parties involved in smaller disputes.

The litigation and dispute resolution practice group at B P Collins LLP is well equipped to deal with a dispute of any size. For further information and advice please contact a member of the team by calling 01753 279039 or emailing

Posted by Lucy Newman, trainee in the litigation and dispute resolution practice group.

Lucy graduated from the University of Nottingham in 2011 with a degree in Politics and American Studies (International Study). She went on to complete the Graduate Diploma in Law and Legal Practice Course at the University of Law (Bloomsbury).

After working as a paralegal in the Real Estate team for a large city law firm, Lucy joined B P Collins LLP in September 2014.