Online dispute resolution as the name suggests is a method of dispute resolution which uses technology to settle dispute between the parties. It is a fusion of Alternative Dispute Resolution methods and Information and communication technology.The advent of the information technology act, 2000 brought about reforms in the traditional judicial system and ODR is one among such reform.

Often ODR is confused with the virtual courts but worldwide the way ODR is evolving makes its clear that is quite different from the virtual courts. One of the important attributes of ODR is that it is happening outside the Public Court System.  They key  element of ODR is that there should be usage of some ICT tools whether simple like the audio visual tools or the complex ones like smart negotiation tools, smart dispute resolution tools, etc.

With the enactment of the Information technology Act, 2000, which gave formal legal recognition to e-commerce and e-governance, resulting in a spike in disputes related to online transactions, for which the existing redressal mechanisms are falling short. To remedy this issue, the Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India has planned to roll out an Online Consumer Dispute Resolution platform that follows the best practices emerging in the global e-commerce arena. So ODR as a method of settling disputes is still in its infancy stage in India and is often confused with the virtual courts but keeping in mind the way it is evolving worldwide – it has lot to offer to the arena of dispute resolution.

The judiciary in India is clogged with millions of cases. Inspite of multiple efforts like the passing of the specialised arbitration law and setting up specialized tribunals the burden of the judiary is not yet relieved to considerable extent due to parallel increase in the number of cases/disputes owing increase in trade and commerce in the past few decades.

The situation now is aggravated due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing measures, which has forced the country to undergo lockdown, but the judiciary still, has embraced the support of technology and is continuing to render its judicial function at a sub optimal level. Even the tribunals and ADR are functioning alike. It is still uncertain how long it is going to take to return to the previous level of normalcy which in any-case was insufficient to cater to even the then existing case-load. The situation is now only going to worsen since thousands of disputes are directly attributable to COVID-19 induced lockdown. However, the judiciary has openly embraced technology as a means to deliver inclusive justice. Even during the nation-wide lockdown, courts were kept accessible, albeit to a limited extent, through e-filings and virtual hearings. And now it is steadily moving towards adopting a futuristic vision of virtual courts, where certain categories of cases will be resolved entirely online.

The interplay of technology and technological mechanism to help dispute resolution would greatly take the burden off of the judiciary not only during the pandemic period but also as a longer term policy since ODR – not only resolves disputes but also prevent disputes through what is known as artificial intelligence. Artificial Intelligence (AI) which is also known as a system which can think and perform cognitive functions like human beings is the application of advanced analytics and logic-based commands to interpret events and automate decisions and actions. Smart driving cars Alexa, Smart thermostats, are some examples of Artificial Intelligence commonly in use in daily life style. AI helps the parties while contracting or transacting to avoid possible errors and adhere to the mandatory laws which parties have to observe while contracting/transacting. It also crafts a dispute resolution process which is suitable for the parties to cater to their needs. The machine learning tools processes factors such as: the place of performance and any mandatory laws applicable as a result; where the parties’ assets are understood to be located; which language is most appropriate; and what procedural rights or powers of the tribunal are most desirable in each case.

Thus, matters which would not have been justifiable find a logical conclusion or resolution. ODR is still in infancy stage in India and looking at the present situation where even judiciary has embraced technology in dispute resolution and also at the progressive and dynamic world, we can see ODR coming in the mainstream of the dispute resolution system like the traditional courts of law, in the near future.

 

AUTHOR – HARSHAD BHOIR