What is ODR? And Should it be Part of the Ontario Justice System?
There’s no question about it: The modern world is all about technology. Almost anything can be had, promoted, achieved, or accessed in the online environment. More and more, the Internet is simply the place to be.
It should therefore come as no surprise that there is movement afoot in Canada to implement Online Dispute Resolution (ODR). Although there can be various different structures and permutations, this method of dispute resolution generally employs the use of meditators/arbitrators and other tools that are available for use online, and often around-the-clock. ODR aims to be a speedy, cost-effective alternative to having to take certain types of litigation to court.
In fact, British Columbia – which already has an e-filing system in place for filing court documents – is currently running a pilot project to use ODR practices in connection with settling some of that province’s Small Claims matters, more specifically those dealing with:
• consumer contracts that involve a maximum of $25,000 in damages or debt owing;
• recovery of personal property;
• specific performance of an agreement relating to personal property or services; and
• certain disputes involving/between strata condominium owners.
This pilot project also involves the creation of a Civil Resolution Tribunal that features a significant ODR element: Aimed at families and small business owners, it would involve the Tribunal tackling certain kinds of disputes and providing the parties with information that may even prevent disputes altogether. Disputes that nonetheless go forward can be resolved by consent after a negotiation process; failing that, the parties could try to have their matter determined by mediation. If that still fails to achieve resolution, then the parties could avail themselves of arbitration after an independent tribunal hearing, if necessary. The ODR component would be limited to the negotiation process only; however the mediator would be able to contact the parties online, and instigate negotiation services through that medium. The parties would also be able to access an online negotiation tool via the Internet, with templates and other bargaining aids provided. The negotiation comes to an end if the parties are unable to reach a settlement within a stipulated period of time.
Incidentally, some variant of the ODR model has already been successfully implemented in other parts of the world, most notably the United Kingdom and Australia. Various other jurisdictions (such as Quebec, Belgium and Luxembourg) are also considering it.
The government of Ontario, meanwhile, has not yet jumped on the bandwagon; as such, it may be missing out on plenty of potential benefits for the justice system. For one thing, the B.C. project anticipates that by using ODR, a dispute can be resolved within about 60 days, rather than the 12-18 months it currently takes a matter to wind its way through Small Claims Court in that province. This means that individual litigants can benefit from a speedier and potentially more cost-effective process by which to resolve their smaller disputes. And needless to say, if fewer litigants are clogging up the courts, this potentially saves the taxpayer some money as well.
Should Ontario’s justice system explore the ODR option? What are your thoughts?