The use by Singapore of an online dispute resolution (ODR) system which provides users with a “likely legal outcome” for motor claims has divided delegates at the 2019 International ODR Forum.
Delegates at the forum, held in the US, heard that Singapore’s “relatively mature” ODR system for money claims has handled a total of 29,000 cases. It has now been expanded to road traffic accidents.
According to a report of the forum by the US National Center for State Courts (NCSC) website, there was “some debate” among delegates as to whether it was appropriate for ODR systems to provide likely outcomes.
“One side argued that only a legal professional is qualified to offer that information while others said it’s fine for an ODR program to share the statistical probability of a legal outcome.
“A compromise position was that ODR should provide legal information but not advice.”
The NCSC said Singapore’s ODR system was like others in allowing time for parties to negotiate in a chat room, but unlike others, it ‘nudges’ the parties to settle “by pointing out that doing so will save time and maybe money”.
The NCSC added: “The Singapore officials said they don’t have enough data to know if nudging leads to more and quicker resolutions.”
The US state of Utah launched a pilot ODR system in September last year for low-value money claims, involving three courts.
Utah court officials told the forum that in the largest of the three courts, filing time “went from 10 minutes to four minutes, and judges’ caseloads shrunk from 50-plus hearings a day to five”. Default judgments also dropped, “a sign of increased participation” by defendants.
“Overall, court staff prep time per case dropped from nine minutes to five minutes, freeing up clerks’ time. The time it took for cases to be disposed decreased from 144 days before ODR to 84 days with it.
“Officials also were thrilled to report that of the 2,000 or so cases filed to date, only 28 parties opted out, and some of those were encouraged to do so for various reasons.”
Utah Supreme Court Justice Deno Himonas, who delivered the conference’s keynote address, noted that the US was ranked tied 99th out of 126 countries for access to justice.
“There is no cure-all, in my opinion. What it’s going to take is the building of a new legal ecosystem.
“Would it be ideal if everyone had access to an attorney, and it was affordable? Yes, but that system has failed.”
Delegates also heard court officials from Franklin County, Ohio, share results from a small, voluntary ODR system, which has handled around 1,000 cases.
“Default judgments dipped from 54% before ODR to 44% with it. One-third of the participants used it during non-office hours, which pleased court officials there. Four out of five users reported positive outcomes, and 95% of all parties said they would use it again.”
Delegates agreed that court officials who wanted a successful ODR system should make it a priority and commit to it for the long term; promote and encourage the use of it; design it so that it is user friendly, publish hard data to show how it is doing and invest in it, but “make sure you hire the right vendors”.
Professor Richard Susskind, IT adviser to the Lord Chief Justice, was reported as taking issue with Maria Acevedo from the Cyberjustice Laboratory at the University of Montreal on the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in ODR.
Ms Acevedo said: “What does the future hold for ODR? We believe it is ODRAI, which is ODR aided by artificial intelligence.”
But Professor Susskind – whose new book on online courts was published last week – said the human element should not be excluded from ODR and “AI cannot produce a judge who can empathise and do what human judges do.”
However, he was more bullish on the future of ODR, or at least the role of internet in delivering justice.
“I believe in the future cases will be conducted online unless there’s a compelling reason to do it in courtrooms – maybe in five to 10 years.
“Critics compare ODR with a perfect system of justice that doesn’t exist. With ODR, we’ll see an increase in access to justice.”