By: Chidimma Onyiaorah
“Now that society has embraced technology so thoroughly, the key question for dispute resolution professional is, how can we leverage technology to best assist parties in resolving their disputes?”
Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) is a field of Dispute Resolution, which uses technology to facilitate the resolution of disputes between parties whether or not they occurred online or offline. It inculcates the principles of alternative forms of dispute resolution such as arbitration, negotiation or mediation etc. However, ODR is no longer a novelty but the future of ADR as it augments the traditional means of resolving disputes by applying innovative techniques and online technologies to the process.
Dispute resolution techniques range from methods where parties have full control of the procedure, to methods where a third party is in control of both the process and the outcome. These primary methods of resolving disputes may be complemented with Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
When the process is conducted mainly online, it is referred to as ODR, i.e. to carry out most of the dispute resolution procedures online, including the initial filing, the neutral appointment, evidentiary processes, oral hearings if needed, online discussions, and even the rendering of binding settlements. Thus, ODR is a different medium for resolving disputes, from beginning to end, respecting due process principles.
ODR techniques are already being deployed around the world in resolving a wide range of disagreements arising from e-commerce, from quarrels amongst citizens to conflicts between individuals and the state. ODR is not appropriate for all classes of dispute, but on the face of it, is best placed to help settle high volumes of relatively low value disputes especially those of financial nature, but at much less expense and inconvenience than conventional courts or conventional arbitration.
In its earlier days, ODR was used mainly to resolve disputes that occurred over the course of internet transactions such as disputes between Internet Service Providers and their subscribers or between buyers and sellers on online platforms. In 1999, eBay, an online sales platform, carried out an ODR pilot project in which they were able to resolve over 200 cases in two weeks. Now eBay alone resolves around 60 million disagreements amongst traders yearly.
It is believed that efficient mechanisms to resolve online disputes will influence the development of e-commerce. While the application of ODR is not limited to disputes arising from business to consumer online transactions, it seems to be particularly apt for these disputes, since it is logical to use the same medium (the internet) for the resolution of e-commerce disputes when parties are frequently located far from one another.
The concept of ODR is still not very common in Nigeria; there is however, a huge market for ADR experts in ODR in Nigeria if the proper legal framework is put in place and other modalities for its success worked out. With the introduction of e-businesses in Nigeria such as Konga, Jumia, Yudala, Paga, Jiji, etc and also online job recruitment platforms such as Jobberman, ngcareers etc not forgetting organizations offering all sorts of opportunities online to the general public, the numbers of online engagement and transactions keep growing daily, there is a huge growing potential for ODR and if properly utilized, it could be a huge opportunity to include young ADR practitioners and experienced ADR practitioners in general.
Our aspiration is that ODR is fully embraced in Nigeria because of its cost effectiveness and convenience compared to litigation or traditional ADR especially where ordinary circumstances may require one or both of the parties to incur travel and accommodation expenses in order to proceed with mediation or arbitration. By completely excluding the court and other quasi-judicial issues in the process of ODR, the process avoids complex jurisdiction issues.
However, it is of utmost importance that in developing the legal framework and modalities for effective implementation ODR mechanism the inevitable challenges such as confidentiality issues must be placed under high scrutiny and control.
At the moment, a hybrid version of ODR is practiced in Nigeria where parties often initiate dispute resolution process via physical meetings and continue by electronic communications such as emails and video conferencing.
At the Abuja Chamber of Commerce Dispute Resolution Centre (ACCI-DRC), we adopt as much flexibility within the legal limits to assist parties resolve disputes using the best suitable means.
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