Baba’s Explainer – Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)

  • IASbaba
  • July 14, 2022
  • 0
Indian Polity & Constitution
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  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • GS-2: Judiciary & challeges

Context: NITI Aayog in Nov 2021 released the report ‘Designing the Future of Dispute Resolution: The ODR Policy Plan for India’, to scale dispute avoidance, containment and resolution online.

  • The roll out of the stated recommendations in the report can help make India a world leader in using technology and innovation through Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) for effective access to justice for every individual.
  • The report was based on the recommendation made by Committee headed by Justice AK Sikri, which was constituted by NITI Aayog at the peak of COVID crisis in 2020.
What is Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)?
  • ODR is the resolution of disputes, particularly small- and medium-value cases, using digital technology and techniques of Alternative Dispute Resolutions, such as arbitration, conciliation and mediation.
    • ODR is often simplistically understood to mean e-ADR or ADR that is enabled
      through technology.
  • As a dispute resolution avenue it can be provided both as an extension of the public court system and outside of it.
  • It is not just any form of technology integration (such as electronically scheduling a
    session), but its active use to help resolve the dispute.
  • ODR can use technology tools that are powered by Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning in the form of automated dispute resolution, script-based solution and curated platforms that cater to specific categories of disputes
What are the merits of ODR?
  • Changes the paradigm of Justice delivery: Through ODR courts should be a service not a place. It can be a service that is accessible, formidable, intelligible, pervasive, robust and designed with an outcome-oriented framework.
  • Improves Legal Health of Country: ODR can help in not just dispute resolution but also in dispute containment, dispute avoidance and promotion of general legal health of the country.
  • Ease of Access: Through ODR justice need not have to be mandatorily associated with a place i.e. courts, but rather as a service, that can be provided at parties’ convenience. It eliminates the need for travel and synchronisation of schedules.
  • Reduces Judicial Burden: Cases like motor accidents claims, cheque bouncing cases, personal injury claims and issues such as this may be dealt with by ODR. This helps reduce the court’s burden which is already facing huge backlogs of cases.
  • Promotes Innovation: For a few years now, legal technology start-ups have been attempting to make a difference to the justice delivery systems in India. Collaboration between the private sector and the judiciary, as seen in the case of e-Lok Adalats, has been very successful in resolving disputes
    • In a welcome move to provide recognition and legitimacy to such start-ups, the Department of Legal Affairs has recently invited applications from institutes providing ADR/ ODR services in the country to host such list of service providers on its website.
  • Legislative Preparedness: Though in a piecemeal fashion, there are numerous support legislations which provide legislative backing for the ADR aspect of ODR (such as the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 or the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908) as well as the technology aspect of ODR (such as the Indian Evidence Act, 1972 and the Information and Technology Act, 2000).
  • Useful during Crisis Times: Increasingly, ODR has received impetus across Government, businesses and even the judicial processes to tide over the constraints due to Covid-19.
  • Resolves Storage Issues: Document storage has been replaced by the ODR mechanism as one of the most common problems faced in Indian courts.
  • International Trend: ODR has already been integrated in several jurisdictions such as US, Canada, Brazil, and the UAE wherein the government, the judiciary and private institutions are working together to exploit the benefits of ODR towards enabling greater access to justice.
    • In the UK, CASEMAN, a part of the local county court management system, performs myriad tasks, like creating initial court records for registration of cases, issuing summons and monitoring them, storing electronic copies of evidence, generating cause-lists, maintaining court diary, and automatically generating other relevant documents and records.
    • In the Australian Federal Court, documents are filed electronically on the e Lodgment system, at any time, from anywhere. They are then sealed, or stamped, electronically.

Canada has introduced its online Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) which deals with small claims disputes, as well as property issues of any amount in the province of British Columbia

What is the existing Technological interventions in the Indian Judicial System?
  • eCourts Mission Mode Project
    • The judiciary’s road to ICT integration started out in 1990 with attempts at computerisation of judiciary initiated by the National Informatics Centre (NIC)
    • However, it was in 2005, that efforts were made to integrate ICT across all levels of the judiciary from the Tehsils to the Supreme Court, in a phased manner.
    • These efforts started off as a part of ‘National Policy and Action Plan for Implementation of Information and Communication Technology in the Indian Judiciary’ and culminated into one of the judiciary’s flagship projects–the eCourts Mission Mode Project (eCourts Project)
    • The eCourts project has deployed technology infrastructure and standardised software in District Courts across the country. Some of its key successes include the setting up the eCourts websites, creation of the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) and establishment of a unified CIS (Case Information System).
    • E-courts project has also streamlined judicial process through litigant centric services like electronic cause lists, e-filings, e-payments and easy access to case status and daily orders.
  • Integrated Case Management System (ICMS):
    • It was launched in 2017 for integrating the Supreme Court and the High Courts of the country and enabling e-filing throughout the country.
    • Presently, several High Courts in the country including those at Delhi, Punjab, Bombay, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Allahabad have enabled e-filing and presentation of evidence on electronic platforms in their commercial divisions.
  • SUVAS – Integration of Artificial Intelligence
    • Taking ICT integration one step further, the Supreme Court has now harnessed the potential of artificial intelligence through the development of SUVAS i.e. Supreme Court Vidhik Anuvaad Software.
    • This artificial intelligence powered software has the capability to translate judgments, orders and judicial documents from English to nine vernacular language scripts (Marathi, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Gujarati, Malayalam and Bengali) and vice versa.
  • E-Lok Adalats
    • In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, India saw the organisation of various e-Lok Adalats across States. The first e-Lok Adalat organised by the Chhattisgarh High Court and State Legal Services Authority, on 13th July 2020, settled 2,270 cases in a single day through video conferencing
    • Soon it was replicated in other states. Some State Legal Service Authorities have taken technical assistance from ODR service providers to organise e-Lok Adalats.
What are the challenges with ODR?
  • Structural challenges such as lack of digital literacy and digital infrastructure
    • Digital infrastructure includes access to computers, smart phones and medium to high bandwidth internet connection for at least the length of time it takes to conduct meaningful hearings.
    • According to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, only 38% of households in India are digitally literate.
  • Behavioural challenges such as lack of awareness, lack of trust in ODR and reluctance on part of the Government to use ODR.
    • This mistrust stems at several levels from scepticism( feeling of doubt) regarding technology to questions regarding enforceability of ODR outcomes.
  • Operational challenges such as difficulty in enforcing ODR outcomes, privacy concerns, archaic legal processes and shortage of competent Neutrals.
    • Privacy concerns includes online impersonation, breach of confidentiality by circulation of documents and data shared during ODR processes, tampering of digital evidence or digitally delivered awards/ agreements.
What measures can be taken to improve Online Dispute Resolution Mechanism?
  • Increase access to digital infrastructure
    • A pre-condition for all technology related innovations, including ODR, is widespread access to digital infrastructure.
    • Such access should not just be understood to mean physical access to technology and its tools but also include its utilisation and thus necessitate digital literacy.
    • Additionally, it is important that such access addresses gaps created by differences in class, caste, gender and age and include those individuals who are often on the margins
  • Increase Capacity
    • While access to digital infrastructure is necessary for the inclusion of the end user, increase in capacity of the professionals and the service providers is necessary if ODR is to be scaled up in India.
    • This can be achieved only through systematic and co-ordinated engagement of all concerned stakeholders ranging from the Government to the businesses and the judiciary.
    • To achieve this, there is a need to introduce training programmes, strengthen paralegal services within communities, encourage growth within the private sector, introduce ODR in legal education
  • Build trust in ODR
    • While building infrastructure and ensuring adequate capacity can form the foundation for ODR, its mainstreaming will require increased trust in ODR processes from its end users- individual disputants, businesses and governments.
    • This trust can be built only through collaborative and coordinated efforts from all concerned stakeholders–Neutrals, lawyers, ODR/ ADR institutions, ODR Platforms along with the Government and the judiciary.
    • The Government through the Department of Legal Affairs has already initiated the process by inviting submissions to recognise ADR and ODR services providers. Through such as list, the Government can provide users with a clear description of the services provided by the institutions e.g. e-arbitration, e-mediation etc. and the sectors that they are currently servicing.
    • Such a list can then be shared between Government Departments and PSUs to enable them to choose service providers that satisfy their requirement criteria.
  • Suitably regulate ODR
    • Given sufficient time and room for growth, India has the potential to be the epicentre for innovation and the dynamic development of ODR. With new players entering the field and the ecosystem seeing increased activity, there will be a corresponding need to ensure that the rights of the end users are protected.
    • On the other hand, even though ODR has seen new innovation, these technology solutions are still in their early stages of development.
    • Therefore, it is necessary that the regulatory model adopted by India protect the rights of the end users while ensuring that over-regulation does not stifle innovation.
    • To this end, a light touch approach to regulation is well suited for India, especially during the early stages, which are likely to see immense growth and innovation of a variety of ODR solutions.

Mains Practice Question – Critically examine the role of Online Dispute Resolution Mechanism in the Indian Judicial system. Also, highlight the key challenges associated with its implementation. 

Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.


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