Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, where 'work from home' and 'online classes' have become the new norm of business all over the world, today's ultra-modern world is exposed to communications, trading, business dealing networks across nations. All these dealings at the international level have led to a sharp rise in the number of conflicts and disputes which is an unavoidable part of our lives. Disputes not only take place in the case of face-to-face or social interactions but these disputes also string to online communications. Now, drawing attention towards an aged-virus that has affected our dispute resolution system has compelled millions of litigators to seek redressal for their fundamental human rights. As per the recent report ofthe National Judicial Data Grid ,there are 32 million dispute related cases pending in our country. Although the Apex Court in India has permitted online filing and hearing of cases, it can’t be denied the fact that the judiciary is overburdened with an infinite number of cases. To ease the pressure on the courts, Online Dispute Resolution has become one of the most improved and efficient ways to solve day-to-day disputes.
ABOUT ONLINE DISPUTE RESOLUTION
During the early 1990s, ODR was never required by the people until the emergence of the Internet and commercial activities. Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) is the settlement of conflicts via a series of negotiations and mutual agreements between the parties. It is a process where the dispute is settled outside the courts with the amalgamation of technologies and concurrent solutions and alternatives replacing the need of dragging the matter to the court. It covers all the conflicts which are solved over the Internet with an outside source initiated in cyberspace. Hon. Arthur M. Monty Ahalt (ret.) defined ODR "as a branch of dispute resolution which uses technology to facilitate the resolution of disputes between parties. It primarily involves negotiation, mediation or arbitration, or a combination of all three. In this respect, it is often seen as being the online equivalent of ADR". In contrast, it acts as a much faster and approachable option for individuals and organizations to resolve their disputes compared to ADR (Alternative Disputes Resolution) which is complex and expensive. India has witnessed a tremendous growth in online banking and e-payment methods which has further made the ODR system more convenient serving as an effective system for speedy and fair dispute resolution.
METHODS OF ONLINE DISPUTE RESOLUTION
ODR involves the use of negotiation, arbitration and mediation for dispute or conflict resolutions. The sundry of methods are as follows -
●Online Mediation: - The process starts with delivering mail to the parties where all the basic information about the proceedings are mentioned followed by the virtual meetings in the chat rooms. It is the most favourable method of dispute resolution.
●Synchronous ODR: - In this method, the parties communicate with each other via video conferences to solve personal disputes.
●Asynchronous ODR: - In this method, communications are not conducted in real-time method but via emails or other communication methods are used to solve the disputes.
●Arbitration: - Under this method, both the parties concur to resolve the arguments, grievances and conflicts by appointing a third person also known as an arbitrator or negotiator.
●Mediation: - Under this, both the parties settle the dispute in a peaceful, mutual and beneficial manner. Here, the third person only helps in arriving at a mutual settlement.
●Conciliation: - This method is voluntary in nature where the aggrieved party tries to resolve its conflicts. Just like mediation, the third party helps in assisting a mutual agreement between the aggrieved party and the opposite party.
●Electronic Arbitration: - It is a less popular mode of online resolution but it makes-up for the purpose up to a definite extent.
Each and every method is unique and effective in its own way but the beauty of each of them lies in the fact that it can be altered as per the demand of the circumstance.
PLATFORMS OF ONLINE DISPUTE RESOLUTION
In the current situation, more and more ODR platforms are coming into existence owing to the shift in the pattern of dispute resolution that existed in the pre-COVID-era for both national and international companies. With the combination of the existing ADR process, ODR platforms have simplifiedthe process of dispute solving making it feasible and time convenient. The platforms are -
●Centre for Alternate Dispute Resolution Excellence (CADRE): - It is a website-based platform. Here, one party approaches the platform followed by contacting the other party. If both the parties agree to have a mutual agreement, then an arbitrator is appointed and time-stamped intimations are sent through a mail. The legally bound decisions take up to 20-25 days to reflect. As of now, it’s solving the tenant and rental contract dispute for Nest Away which is an online home rental startup.
●Centre for Online Dispute Resolution (CODR): - It mainly administrates online cases thoroughly.
●AGAMI: - A non-profit platform which sets a better mechanism of the working of law and justice by providing efficient time and feasible methods for dispute resolution.
●SAMA: - This platform makes a way for easy access to high-quality ADR services for resolving disputes online. ICICI Bank uses SAMA for resolving nearly 10,000 disputes.
PROVISIONS RELATING TO ODR
Taking a glance at the past days, there were no courts in India for dispute resolution. The Sarpanch or the elder members of the family were the only authority in place for resolving conflicts.However, Later, during the era of British Rule, numerous acts were implemented to promote the concept of arbitration like Bombay Presidency Regulation Act, Madras Presidency Regulation Act and The Charter Act, 1933 which dealt with the domestic violation. Below are the provisions that so duly require ODR or in relation to it.
●The Constitution of India: - Our constitution has adopted Article 21 which states that no person can be deprived of life and personal liberty according to the procedure established by law. Therefore, the Apex Court of India held that the right to a speedy trial is an essential part of life and liberty.
●The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908: - Under this Act, Section 89 which mentions the Settlement of Dispute outside the courts &Rules 1A to 1C, Order 10 mentions the direction of courts for opting any mode of ADR after first hearing was inserted.
●Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996: - The main goal of this Act is to support the settlement of the dispute through Mediation and several other procedures. Section 73 of this Act provides a settlement agreement which is reached by the parties due to the proceedings of the court judgments.
●Information and Technology Act, 2000: - Under this, Section 4, 5, 10-A, 11-15 mentions about the legal recognition of electronic records and signatures.
●Indian Evidence Act, 1872: - Under this, Section 65-A and 65-B made electronic devices as a secondary copy which can be accepted in the courts of law.
JUDGMENTS RELATING TO ONLINE DISPUTE RESOLUTION
The list of cases relating to Online Dispute Resolution is -
●Tata Sons v. The Advance Information Technology Association [landmark case]: - In this case, the Delhi High Court directed the Defendants to cancel the registration of the impugned domain name and restricted it from carrying out further business activities .
●Maruti Udyog Limited v. Maruti Software Pvt. Ltd [landmark case]: - In this case, the Court ordered that the domain name should be transferred to the Complainant.
●State of Maharashtra v. Dr. Praful B. Desai: - The Supreme Court of India held that online arbitration agreement is the most important document for arbitration and video conferencing can be restored for evidence to satisfy the object of Section 273 of CrPC.
●Shakti Bhog Food Ltd. V. Kola Shipping Ltd.: - In this case, it held that communication and acceptance by different modes are accepted.
In our country, Online Dispute Resolution is still at its infant stage, but with time it has been adopted at large-scale. More and more scope of ODR platforms is needed for speedy solutions. Because of its effective and simple mechanism, it has the potential to appear in the mainstream for resolving the disputes and its existence cannot be questioned. Assumptions have been made in the future that this platform will not only provide for the disposal of cases but it will also open a gateway of opportunities for the advocates and arbitrators.
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