Future of Online Dispute Resolution in India
Updated: Mar 14, 2021
Whenever any development takes place, the important element of observance is that how far we’ve come in respect of information and technology. What started as industrialization, has now reached a level where one can conduct his or her entrepreneurship at the comfort of sitting in one’s home. The advancement in technology has imbibed every field possible, so much so that even the legal arena remains not untouched. The biggest example being the evolution of contract making; starting from through the medium of letters and gradually progressing towards telephone and telegraph, we’ve reached a place where contract making is possible through the phenomena called video- calling; moving further from e-mails too.
Heading further about technological progression in the field of law, what has come around just recently and is mounting further at the speed of light is the concept of online dispute resolution. The concept is relatively new and is still expanding and developing. The concept can be defined in the words, “ODR is the resolution of disputes, particularly small- and medium-value cases, using digital technology and techniques of alternate dispute resolution (ADR), such as negotiation, mediation, and arbitration.”
Upon deconstruction of the definition it can be observed that it is a general term given to all kinds of justice resolution methods which can be carried out through the digital technologies, namely negotiation, mediation, and arbitration. These mediums by themselves don’t involve much of the court systems. Secondly, since it is still in its nascent stage in India, the ODR is currently planned to be limited mainly for resolving disputes regarding small and medium value cases. These cases amount to the substantial part of the monetary case load of our judicial system. Thirdly, the problems with our judicial system of deficient number of judges and the ever- increasing case load makes it even more imperative to go around searching further alternative mechanisms for dispute resolution. Hence in such a scenario the ODR serves as an additional boon. The present anomaly situation arising out of the COVID- 19 pandemic serves as a complement or a rather independent impetus, invoking the practice of ODR in the newly developed environment of social- distancing.
These points clearly elucidate the setting of the conditions under which ODR will take- off. The next line of steps shall remain is to seek and sort action towards prevailing this system; to think of how this system can be made available to the justice seekers(parties), the justice- givers (the judiciary) and the crucial medium(lawyers). The inevitable fact remains is that due to the circumstances synthesised by the on- going pandemic, we’re somewhat caught up, in using these methods only, for at least a period of couple of years. If this development takes place, there’s no going back and the good part is that there shall be no need to.
Hence the scope of challenges regarding the subject remains limited. The only elements to look out for are the ways to implement ODR and the cons of the system which might push it back from being beneficial in its absoluteness.
The method to be incorporated in order to implement ODR, is to first sort out our requirements from the technological standpoint. As Justice DY Chandrachud observes that technology must be user friendly, incorporating design thinking to understand requirements of the users, and develop mechanism for data management for the sake of predictable, consistent, transparent, and efficient judicial system. Since ODR is purported to be used by people who are commoners, hence the mechanism shouldn’t be complex and should be designed in a manner which is convenient to be used by the judges as well as the petitioners who are not necessarily technology experts. Delving deep into the convenience and requirements of the users, certain design thinking is needed to be done, as to the nature of the cases to be resolved, the requirements of the ODR shall vary. The need of a certain data management system is many-fold. Firstly, an efficient data management is required in order to protect data privacy. Since majorly the ODR shall deal with the money matters, the details and information of the petitioners will be related to their disputed finances, and that being shared through online and digital mediums the leakage or hacking of any kind shall be too dangerous. The leakage hazard is not only from the opposing parties but in such a case, from the digital hackers too. What one must keep in mind is that the protection of the information should be efficient and trust- worthy.
While combatting these problems, many good opportunities shall be unleashed. This major demand to form such technology and such user-friendly platforms, will increase demand for such people. The government may make use of such skilled people and invite for such enterprises or entrepreneurships. Thus, increasing and encouraging an environment not only for entrepreneurship but also for the skilled- men to use their talent, opening doors for the employment of people and technology, all-over creating environment friendly towards technique and business infrastructure pertaining to technology.
These kinds of infrastructural and logistical complexities which might be occur or are forthcoming but are yet not visible, shall arrive with their own solutions too as this is how the digitalisation works. But what seems to be a bigger challenge specifically relevant to the Indian demography is building trust in people towards such a system. The justice seekers are substantially people belonging to rural class where our digital infrastructure has not reached. Leave alone the ODR accessibility, even the internet connections in these places aren’t of that standard that can be vouched for; leaving the natives in dark and scepticism. Hence such outreach is required where the people shall be informed and made familiar to the new arising concept. They should be made aware in every sense, informing them the procedure pros, and cons. A good channel for imparting such information and accessibility to information can be the Lok Adalats. Some contemplation in this direction is worthy to be done.
A substantial part of the users namely the petitioners or even the elements of the judiciary system cannot be necessarily well equipped themselves, with the latest technology and pertaining devices, so much so that the day shall never arrive when the judiciary shall become even a bit digitalised if the people directly involved are expected to do it all on their own. In the sense, other than the technology creators, we shall be needing technology handlers too for a substantial time.
Hence for the proper adaptability of the ODR, development needs to be made in two respects broadly, one being in the sphere of technological and logistical advancements, and the other being in the sphere of advancements in the minds of the people. Certain conflicts are confirmed to be arisen, but as they say only conflicts leads to progress!
 https://niti.gov.in/catalyzing-online-dispute-resolution-india  Ibid.
Author - Pragati Gupta
Student of Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.