From 12-13 June 2017, an ICC conference entitled ‘Equal Access to Information & Justice: Online Dispute Resolution’ brought together 170 lawyers, magistrates, academics, researchers, dispute resolution organisations and providers from over 30 countries on every continent. The goal: to discuss the huge and largely unexplored potential of online dispute resolution (ODR).
Here are three main takeaways from the conference’s discussions:
1. Online dispute resolution is central to the future of arbitration
As Alexis Mourre, President of the ICC International Court of Arbitration, memorably stated about online dispute resolution at the opening of the conference: “There may be no more relevant topic than this one for the future of dispute resolution”. Technology offers arbitration unprecedented opportunities to save time and costs and, according to Mr Mourre, there is prospect that in the near future there will no longer be a need to organise physical hearings due to the use of holograms or other technologies.
“For the president of the ICC Court to say that there is no more relevant topic, given what we started with two decades ago, is unbelievably remarkable,” said Ethan Katsh, Co-Founder of the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolute and Professor Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“We no longer speak of technology and online dispute resolution as a luxury or by-product,” added Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Founding Partner and Head of International Arbitration at Zulficar & Partners Law Firm (Cairo, Egypt). There is little doubt among experts that digital technologies will play an increasingly central role in how dispute resolution takes place.
Diana Paraguacuto, Partner at NGO Jung & Partners (Paris, France), shared her recent experience. “We attempted to think differently about dispute resolution at the Global Pound Conference in Paris and this could not have been achieved without a chapter on ODR”.
2. Online dispute resolution can democratise justice
“Everything is online except justice,” Mireze Philippe, Special Counsel at the ICC Court, pointed out in her opening remarks. “Justice is denied to millions of people who cannot afford going to courts, or who are disabled or in remote places with no access to justice to seek remedies, which ends up in a denial of justice,” Ms Philippe argued.
“With all the progress we have made and all the ODR meetings, we are still at the beginning”, said Colin Rule, Co-Founder of software company Modria, now merged with Tyler Technologies (California, USA).
“Raising awareness and finding concrete tools that may help to overcome unequal access to information and justice is everyone’s concern. After nearly 70 years of progress in technology and telecommunications, it is high time that both public and private justice offer access to justice around the globe that is fair and simple,” Ms Philippe concluded.
3. Uptake in online dispute resolution remains slow
Although advancements in technology are occurring at an ever more rapid pace, services to resolve disputes online remain extremely slow or even non-existent in most countries. Part of this is due to the difficulty of implementing standards for ODR in different legal environments. For instance, there are potential differences in creating standards for e-commerce systems and standards for use by practitioners engaged in more traditional ADR work.
Despite the inherent challenges, however, speakers at the conference were adamant in affirming the need to take advantage of intelligence systems that can decide or help the parties in making a decision. Digital technologies have as much potential to transform dispute resolution as they have transformed other areas of life. It is now up to practitioners and other stakeholders to define best practices and create a workable environment that enables this potential to be fully leveraged for the benefit of all.