Resurrection of Online Dispute Resolution

6 December 2008 - A Workshop on Internet Governance for Development in Hyderabad, India


ODR is not only for important to e-commerce but essential for the people’s access to justice in the information society. The workshop focused on the e-justice, which is a overlooked area in the Internet governance discussion.

ODR and Economic Development: in the present financial crisis, ODR’s function to facilitate the economic development has become particularly important. If ODR can increase the financing for SMEs, employment opportunities and international trade, ODR can gradually enter into the mainstream of dispute resolution.

ODR and social justice: in addition to improving the judicial efficacy and save the costs and resources, ODR can let more people, particularly those disadvantaged, access to justice and dispute resolution services. This is critically important to the disable people and the people living in the remote regions of the developing countries.

Redefinition of ODR: The term "online dispute resolution" (ODR) is the product of an observation that was made in the mid-1990's about the nature of "new" disputes being created through the use of ICT - Information and Communication Technology. The observation was direct and powerful - by using ICT, we are creating a cyber-environment (the Internet) and cyber-transactions that are different from the transactions we are used to in the "real" world, and we are creating conflict that is different in nature than the conflict we create in the physical world. The classic example is eBay. A buyer in Indiaand a seller in Iowa may have a dispute over an online transaction and find it physically impossible to engage in mediation or other types of dispute resolution in the traditional, face-to-face sense. Additionally, there may be no clear legal authority to help them settle the dispute. For individuals in this position, some online dispute resolution system is the only game in town. This observation and the reaction to it was the birth ground for Ethan Katsh and Janet Rifkin’s identification of ODR technology as the “Fourth Party.”

Indian Experience: Online Dispute resolution has various practice models in US, Europe and Australia to name a few spaces. In Indian context the Information Technology Act 2000 opened the Digital age regulation. The Act aimed at legitimizing Digital signature and bringing the E-commerce revolution. The IT Act 2000 has touched upon various issues of contract formation, digital signature validation, cyber crimes and jurisdiction issues. It has not explicitly dealt with ODR. Yet the provisions could be optimized for ODR in various sectors. The sections on E-Governance provide for prop active use of dispute resolutions methods. yet the effective ODR needs other inputs like the training, infrastructure and most importantly the willingness to the disputants to be part of the process. This presentation analysed such optimization for ODR for stakeholders.

Future of ODR: it was proposed that a Global ODR Development Panel (Panel) initially take the lead and become a driving force for building a trusted online community responsible for collectively drafting documents, circulating information and organizing promotional events about building an online justice system. Panelists should include the leading figures in ODR research and practices. An effective working organization should include up to 30 members, and have gender and geographical balance. The Panel will particularly encourage the participation of the disabled people for their access and exercise of justice through ODR proceedings. The Panelists will be by invitation plus public recruitment.