Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) in an Information Age

By Eugene Clark
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, November 16, 2017
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E-commerce [File photo]

E-commerce has grown rapidly with expansion of the internet. With the even more spectacular growth of mobile technology, especially in China, m-commerce will further enhance models of online business, riding on the expansion of information and communications technology, and transforming the way goods are bought and sold.

However, it is inevitable that disputes and problems will arise, and for people to feel comfortable and have sufficient trust to transact in cyberspace, there must be effective and efficient methods in that virtual world to resolve them.

Just as technology has disrupted and transformed most other areas of human activity, this is no less true of legal institutions such as the courts. This is reflected, for example, in the architecture of courts.

In the 19th century a court was a place, usually in the town center, largely designed for the benefit of lawyers, judges and court officials. By the later part of the 20th century, courts were more likely to be seen as one component of government and courts were often found among a nest of other government buildings.

In the 21st century, as courts have gone online and adopted new technologies, we increasingly find mobile courts, video conferencing, online courts, mediation-by-Skype and other innovations. Just as our society has become increasingly connected and networked, courts are now seen as part of a network.

As human activity has gone digital, the number of disputes arising in the online environments has also increased. Numerous models have emerged to offer solutions to parties involved.

In some cases, these mechanisms relate to specific types of disputes such as WIPO's UDRP for resolution of domain name disputes. In other cases, the disputes are industry-specific. Some ODR sites are consumer sites that allow customers to resolve complaints.

Administrative agencies and entire industries (e.g. financial institutions, insurance) have turned to online dispute resolution. While there is no international standard regulating ODR, Australia, the United States, the European Union and other jurisdictions have made some progress towards the development of such standards.

A recent example is China's new e-commerce court in Hangzhou. Established in partnership with China Telecom, Sina Corporation, the "Cyberspace Court" incorporates online filing and case management, online broadcast and adjudication of cases, online mediation and payment. The court’s jurisdiction focuses on internet-related disputes.

Looking to the future, the Department of Justice in Hong Kong is working on an online platform (Belt and Road Arbitration and Mediation Initiative []) to facilitate dispute resolution in large infrastructure projects such as those that will be associated with China’s Belt & Road Initiative

In New Zealand, Complete Online Dispute Resolution (CODR:, for the first time, enables couples through the assistance of online experts to come to a property agreement at a fraction of the cost and more quickly and easily than a time-consuming and expensive court hearing.

In Europe, new software applications have also been instrumental in enhancing access to justice. An example is ODR 4 Refugees, an app that offers multi-lingual and culturally appropriate online mediation services using smartphone technology.

Also in Europe, the EU has launched an online dispute resolution (ODR) platform for use by consumers and traders in settling online disputes relating to domestic and cross-border purchases of goods and services.

Briefly, here are some of the emerging technologies include:

Information kiosks. An older but still relevant technology is the use of information kiosks. Though increasingly located online, but also often available 24/7 in the courthouse, these kiosks enable disputants to find out information about their case, hearing dates, explanations of procedures, availability of various support services such as legal advice, translation and other services.

Case management systems. To cope with increases in case load, complexity and information overload, courts have also turned to electronic case management systems to handle all scheduling, oversee the progress of evidence collection in each case in an efficient, orderly, transparent and fair way.

Big data analytics and predictive coding. Court systems and lawyers today must also cope with huge volumes of information. Big data analytics and predictive coding provide the tools by which lawyers may sort and analyze huge volumes of data.

Biometric systems. Courts in countries such as South Africa, Malaysia, the Philippines and Panama use biometric systems (fingerprints, facial and retina scans and other biological markers) to control and secure their network.

Digital signature and evidence legislation. Many countries now allow digital signatures to achieve full legal recognition and protection. Courts are also recognizing the legal validity of machine-generated legal documents, for example in the case of the use of artificial intelligence and "smart contracting."

New software applications. In the courtroom, new technologies make it possible for the blind and people with other disabilities to participate more fully.

Court presentation technology. Courts, like classrooms, are no longer venues for talk and chalk. Professionally prepared PowerPoints, document cameras, virtual simulations and other technologies are increasingly finding their way into the courtroom.

Video conferencing and mobile courtrooms. Courts are also beginning to take full advantage of video conferencing. This means that prisoners no longer need to leave their cell but can appear on video from the prison. Experts and remote witnesses can testify from anywhere in the world. Litigants and lawyers in rural areas can use video conferencing to gain easy and cheaper access to the higher-level courts which tend to be located in urban centers.

Other jurisdictions have designed mobile courtrooms where the court-on-wheels comes to the litigants, again enhancing access to justice.

Eugene Clark is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of

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