THE SHOW MUST CONTINUE!!
Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), COVID-19 and the New Normal
By Chidimma Onyiaorah
It is no longer news that these are really difficult times as COVID-19 is clearly impacting our personal and professional lives and also causing a global economic crisis affecting all businesses and workers.
The extraordinary circumstances of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its rapid spread are being felt everywhere. The courts, tribunals and various dispute resolution bodies are no exception.
A lot of courts and tribunal have set aside hearings, either by postponement or just sticking to documents only hearing. Others have resorted to resolving matters virtually via emails, teleconference and other online means.
It has become clear to all practitioners that matters that ordinarily would have been resolved in person can now be done online.
Unfortunately, with the Covid 19 Pandemic, we are also witnessing a rash of disputes arising daily, from contract and related disputes concerning, breach of contract, frustration, FORCE MAJEURE, employment disputes etc, that have arisen out of or in connection with the COVID-19 Pandemic, and I assure you that this will be continuous considering the aftermath of the pandemic.
All these will lead to alternative dispute resolution (ADR), Negotiation or litigation proceedings. And we ask, do we keep adjourning and postponing these issues or do we embrace the new normal?
Many features of the procedures of courts, tribunals and dispute resolution bodies may now be addressed online, or via video or teleconference.
In the last decade, the Internet and mobile technologies have become a part of everyday life for most people in the world. Mobile technologies are almost omnipresent in many nations while some nations are playing catch up after an eye-opening experience with this pandemic.
The use of technology in dispute resolution and justice Administration in the developing economies has been ongoing for close to two decades but it is apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought online dispute resolution (ODR) to the fore.
In Nigeria for instance, due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the Chief Justice of Nigeria upon the Order of the Federal Government directed a lockdown of Courts as well as the various ADR centers in the last couple of weeks. This lockdown was extended indefinitely, meaning that all hearings are suspended except for urgent matters.
All hope is not lost as Nigeria’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), has stated that the government was working out a modality that would make judges conduct court proceedings via teleconference and online technology.
In recent times, more and more ODR platforms have become operable across the globe facilitating particular kinds of dispute resolution. These platforms has made the process of dispute resolution easy by combining the already existing process of ADR with cutting edge technology, making the process feasible and time convenient altogether. Some of these platforms are CODR, CADRE, AGAMI, Court86, etc.
Some ADR Centers have also taken step in the right direction to introduce guidelines and procedural orders for Use of ODR due to the pandeimc; some of these institutions are:
• DRC-ACCI: online dispute resolution is being actively encouraged, utilizes online platforms to conduct hearings and witness examinations.
• ACICA: ACICA’s “Draft Procedural Order for the Use of Online Dispute Resolution Technologies” also provides guidance on how hearings may be conducted with video conferencing or Cisco WebEx Meeting Center.
• ICC: all meetings of the Secretariat, ICC Court of Arbitration and the ICC ADR Centre are being conducted virtually. Virtual hearings can also be arranged with the assistance of the Secretariat and the tribunal.
• LCIA: the LCIA has set up an online filing system for new cases.
Every practicable method of ODR is unique and efficient to itself and the beauty is that it can be tailored as per the needs of the parties. Parties may still commence and pursue dispute resolution processes in a time of social distancing, isolation and quarantine.
It is a proven fact that technology improves with time and technology being the main ingredient of different ODR methods, it is certain that ODR will come up with new and more desirable techniques.
The Dispute Resolution Centre of Abuja Chamber of Commerce, with world class facilities and international commercial arbitrators as members is willing and ready to host these arbitrations. We are also set to host online arbitrations, mediations, negotiations etc; we have adequate facilities, experts and standard rules.
Chidimma is Registrar, DRC-ACCI and contributes this piece from Abuja