Civil courts should emulate eBay's 'remarkable' online conflict resolution says government report

The Civil Justice Council, the government body tasked with modernising the civil justice system, has proposed the introduction of online courts to expedite the resolution of low value civil disputes.

To address the fact that 70 per cent of UK civil court hearings are for small sums under £25,000, the report, authored by Prof Richard Susskind, said English and Welsh courts should incorporate online rulings, similar to eBay’s online dispute resolution (ODR) system, to hasten decisions and lower costs.

EBay currently handles over 60 million online conflicts between sellers and customers. On this process, the report read: “For disputes over non-payment by buyers or complaints by buyers that items delivered did not match the description, the parties are initially encouraged [by eBay] to resolve the matter themselves by online negotiation.

“If the dispute cannot be resolved by negotiation, then eBay offers a resolution service in which, after the parties enter a discussion area to present their argument, a member of eBay’s staff determines a binding outcome under its Money Back Guarantee.”

Susskind dubbed the scheme “remarkable” adding that it could ease the pressure on civil courts which he surmised are “too costly, too complex and too slow”.

The proposal would see the adoption of a three tier system similar to eBay’s under which: Parties would have a limited period to reach a settlement online; If that fails the case will be overseen by a legally qualified facilitator; And only failing that will a judge be drafted to make a ruling based upon previously submitted documents.

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