By Arya Gupta
At its most basic level, online dispute resolution (ODR) refers to the use of information and communication technology tools to enable parties to resolve their disputes. This includes using simple to complex communication technologies such as audiovisual tools ranging from telephones to smartphones to LED screens, spreadsheets, emails, and other applications, and the crux of ODR is to enable dispute resolution without the parties physically gathering. We are seeing a rise in the number of instances requiring ODR resolution; the most important reason for this is the pandemic, which has suddenly rendered it obligatory. These changes are now required that are extremely adaptable and imaginative, and both private dispute resolution centers and judiciaries throughout the world have welcomed technology and have already developed a number of rules to support video conferencing guided distant participation and hearings. In terms of international dispute resolution processes, the regulations are already in place.
Reasons for the Growth and Benefits of ODR
- ODR is Incredibly Cost-Effective; traditional costs included hiring venues, traveling, and other fees, which have all decreased since the ODR was established; now, the entire process can be completed simply provided parties have basic technology, which is a requirement for resolving disputes.
- ODR is Convenient and Quick because it is a document solely for dispute resolution, so the parties do not have to go to court, spend time and money, and be physically present or even deal with traditional ADR, which has become dominated by similar evils such as courts, where ODR provides a welcome break.
- There’s an Increase in Access to Justice, due to low cost and such convenience, people who could not afford justice can now also do so, greatly reducing the burden on traditional courts.
Legal Framework of Online Dispute Resolution in India
In this article, we’ll look at the current state of online dispute resolution in India, how Indian laws recognize it, and how awards and settlement agreements reached through ODR are enforceable and recognized in India. In India, ODR efforts were previously almost non-existent, but now that the pandemic has arrived, talks have begun in the Indian scenario. Although many international organizations, such as SISC and ICI, offer fully working platforms for ODR, a committee was specifically constituted for online dispute resolution, and the Niti Aayog has submitted a report for ODR. Despite ODR not being a widely acknowledged technique of conflict resolution, India continues to fall behind. We do know that judgments and case laws in India, it has been paving the way for technology to be recognized and used in various forms of judicial processes.
There are different judgments and regulations that recognize internet contracts, often known as e-contracts, as valid, as well as electronic proof and papers. There are other statutes and decisions that recognize online summons services. There are two Supreme Court decisions that state that online arbitration is legal and that video conferencing is a legal way to record witness testimony. In a recent case, courts recognized service of summons via apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal as valid, so it could be said that we are leaps and bounds ahead of the curve for courts to recognize ODR as valid if the service of summons or the dispute resolution process is carried out via some other technology.
Categories of Online Dispute Resolution
- Government-Run ODR platform, such as the MSMEs’ Samadhan portal and the National Internet Exchange of India’s domain name dispute segment mechanism, adopted this policy in September 2020.
- Court-annexed ODR platforms: Many courts have annexed dispute resolution centers such as DISC or the Delhi High Court’s Samadhan mediation center or the Madras High Court Arbitration Centers, and many courts and arbitration centers are operating during the pandemic and have turned to online dispute resolution, though it is not as smooth as an online portal. Following the outbreak, many Lok Adalats have been operating online.
- Private ODR Platforms like the legal tech startups such as SAMA, Pre-sol 360, and center for online dispute resolution. GoI invited applications from such startups to enable them to enlist themselves on the website of the department of legal affairs to give them a push.
Basic Proceedings followed in Online Dispute Resolution
The procedure for ODR is determined by the reason for its use, whether it is for Mediation, Conciliation, Arbitration, or another type of conflict resolution mechanism. Unless it is statutorily mandated, such as in the case of MSMEs and other similar regulations, the procedure normally begins with consent, which is the basic foundation of most ADR. Whenever a dispute develops, the party invoking mediation, conciliation, or arbitration does so by writing to the ODR platforms institutions in the manner prescribed by the regulations, notifying both parties, and the process then proceeds based on which mode of dispute resolution is employed. The panel then appoints a neutral, who in this case would be the mediator, conciliator, or arbitrator, depending on the procedure. It’s critical that ODR implements adequate mechanisms to safeguard information authentication as well as to provide privacy and protection to the information provided by the parties. This is accomplished through the use of electronic signatures, which protect the information contained in registered e-documents, as well as encryption. The parties file their claims, replies, applications, and any other papers they desire to file or are obligated to file in this manner. When it comes to ODR platforms, they don’t act as judges or neutrals; instead, they serve as an administrator and infrastructure suppliers.
The Justice Sikri Committee has been tasked with making recommendations to India’s Prime Minister. There will be a variety of legislation and regulations on the entire issue of ODR in the not-too-distant future. This is because there are still a number of questions about ODR, such as how the parties’ privacy and confidentiality will be protected if it is not regulated, and how the expenses of ODR will be kept low if they are not covered by the same technicalities that ADR is currently facing. There is also a need for regulation in the event of witness treatment; in the existing situation, there is a high risk of tampering with statements, and cross-examination processes must be implemented. If an online dispute resolution process is in progress, cross-examination processes are in progress, and they are being tutored or there is someone who is already present in the room on the fitness screen. As a result, there are currently no procedures that are indicated for all of this. Like any other major change, enough incentives must be provided to both entrepreneurs and lawyers in order for the move to go smoothly. Incentives must be provided to both enterprises and stakeholders in order for online dispute resolution to be a huge success in India.