Updated: Jan 8, 2022
Written by: Adrija Ghose
Over the years Alternative Dispute Resolution or ADR has evolved into being an integral part of the justice system involving expeditious and hassle-free settlement of disputes in a manner which is favourable to both parties. This process does not involve going to the court for the settlement of the dispute.
Online Dispute Resolution or ODR is an extension of ADR involving the use of technology in order to resolve the dispute and come to a settlement. India has been moving towards digitalization. Hence, some would feel it would be necessary to inculcate ODR keeping in sync with the times while some would be against it. In common parlance, ODR is ADR operating online which aims to assist litigants resolving their disputes. This program is hosted and supported by the judicial branch. ODR is not a private form of ADR but integrates and extends the service of dispute resolution provided by the judicial branch onto the digital space in order to serve citizens efficiently, transparently as well as fairly. Though some opine it has been beneficial with the ease of accessibility, speedy redressal and disposal, efficient management though having drawbacks of compromised confidentiality, low literacy rate and its actual ease of usage.
This article seeks to delve into understand whether this system has been a beneficial system of dispute resolution or not.
It was due to the outbreak of the Pandemic did this mode become popular and implemented by the judiciary in order to prevent the complete shutdown of the justice system. Though ODR as a redressal system had bene introduced on the report in 2019 of the High-level Committee set up by the Nilekani panel whose report was based on Deepening of Digital Payment in India. Even the Supreme Court in held 2012 in the case of Shakti Bhog v. Kola Shipping that online arbitration agreements were lawful on fulfilling the essentials under section 4 and 5 of the Information and Technology Act.
Though this system has bene less time-consuming, hassle-free mode of settling dispute reducing the burden of the courts. Which not only facilitated the communication and settlement between the parties during the pandemic from the ease of their homes there were two major issues concerning ODR:
a) Whether this technology-based mode of dispute resolution compromises the privacy of individuals?
b) Whether injustice has been meted out via this mode to those who are unable to access such mode?
The first major issue is compromising of information leading to a breach of privacy. Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides the right to privacy as a right which is integral in order to protect the life and liberty of a person. Privacy is intrinsic party of delivering justice includes protecting the rights of the parties to the dispute.
When large corporations/ bodies are parties to disputes they make disclosures which are necessary for the settlement, it is utmost importance to make sure it is not compromised since it may lead to adverse effects on the concerned business. Disclosure of sensitive information not only affect concerned businesses but also individuals who opted for such type of dispute resolution.
Inhibitions bar individuals when they choose to use online services because of the inbuilt threat in the minds of the users of the extent of security which has been provided by the service providers as may a times people are victims of hacking losing their money and personal information.
Online platforms such as Zoom which are used for video conferencing are often hacked by strangers who enter the meetings and disturb them. Confidential information is compromised and privacy is breached.
The second major issue involves whether both parties to the dispute who are seeking justice and the authority imparting justice have accessibility to Online Dispute resolution via technology. Since 2016 there has been a boom in the internet usage in India which considerably increased in 2020 to half the population having access to the internet. Though there still exists a considerable portion of the Indian society not having access to intent which is essential for Online Dispute Resolution.
Obstacles in the way of proper implementation of Online Dispute Resolution:
1. Lack of Awareness: Lack of technological awareness is one of the main impediments in the way of Online Dispute Resolution. India has the lowest rates of digital literacy in the world today. A considerable portion of our population do not know how to set up WhatsApp or Zoom nor do they know how to use the internet properly. Most people also suffer from a mental barrier when it comes to using technology, they are afraid of being hacked. This problem needs to be tackled with and conditions needs to be improved in order to make technology available to the population as a whole.
2. Hardware Problems: Even though India is amongst the countries who provide cheap data connections at low costs, devices on which they are to use this cheap data. There exists a lack of infrastructure and inability to access computers which occur as a roadblock towards the use of ODR as a mode of simplified dispute resolution.
3. Training to use this platform: There already exists an inability to access the this along with lack of technological and mental barriers in the minds of people. Along with this there exists a lack of trained professionals who can help in imparting knowledge and training people to use ODR. Since in India there already exists a proper justice mechanism in courts shifting to a completely new platform online would require a strong support system of trained professionals to help in changing this system online. It is said that only when the justice system is trained can there take place imparting knowledge on the people about ODR.
From the emergence of Online Dispute Resolution there have been hinderances in the way of growth of it due to the use of technology which is the essence of ODR. Along with lack of investment in the infrastructure of it has only let a few people have access to it who are technologically literate and have the proper devices for it. This form of dispute resolution is on of the most effective and efficient ways of settling disputes in a cost effective manner there for this to be a success there must be proper intervention in order to make a conducive environment so that Online Dispute Resolution is available to all and not only a select group.
ODR has benefited by providing a speedy and hassle-free justice system though having certain drawbacks when it comes to the difficulty of using technology and lack of infrastructure.
The main threat due to which people are hesitant to use this method is due to the fear of disclosing information and inaccessibility to it. Major part of this process involves uploading documents and information online there are chances that it may be compromised at the hands of those who hack into systems. Often reiterated that private sector expertise must be utilized in order to prevent hacking and safeguard information so tat it is not compromised at the hands of the hackers.
Over the past few years, the government as well as the court have played a role in being vigilant and forthcoming in developing Online Dispute Resolution in the country by keeping up with the times. In order to tap into the masses, spread technical awareness as well as resolving disputes various online independent private platforms such as CORD, PResolv360 have been set up.
To conclude even though the growth and development of Online Dispute Resolution has been a reduced the judiciary of trying cases in a speedy and hassle- free environment but due to the lack of infrastructure, technological backwardness the scope of ODR has not flourished to that extent. Very few people who have suitable devices and technologically advanced and literate are able to benefit out of this method of settlement of dispute from the comfort of their homes. It was due to the Pandemic in 2020 that online forums came into help avoid complete shutdown of the justice system, people became more aware of finding easier methods of doing things digitally including disputed being easily resolved online.
Online Dispute Resolution has only been set up recently amidst the pandemic. It still in its beginning stages, with proper infrastructure, training and awareness can the obstacles in the way of implementation of ODR be overcome and flourish in the future. With more advancement in technology and proper cybersecurity ODR will be one of the most efficient and effective ways to resolve disputes.