Report calls for establishment of online dispute resolution

The UK could learn from the Netherlands and Canada about how to use online dispute resolution (ODR) for small claims and put it into practice within the next couple of years. This is the main conclusion of a report on the digital delivery of legal services to people on low incomes, written by Professor Roger Smith, solicitor and former director of JUSTICE.

Professor Smith recommended that lessons be learnt from pioneering projects in Holland and Canada before ODR is adopted in the UK in 2016. He said the Dutch were leading the way with user-orientated legal advice websites, while British Columbia looked likely to be the first to deliver online dispute determination next year.

Professor Smith told Legal Futures that too many legal advice websites were based on print. He said: “The best sites, like the Dutch one, are turning themselves around so they ask questions of the user and identify exactly what the user wants.”

The report recommended that the Ministry of Justice and Courts Service should commit to a pilot small claims online dispute resolution programme, from 2016 onwards.

Among other recommendations were that the Law Society and Legal Services Board should encourage private providers to develop services for those on low incomes; the Lord Chancellor should re-evaluate legal aid priorities so that funding is aimed at the resolution of disputes as early as possible, and deploy internet-assisted provision to meet the need for initial advice and information; and providers of digital legal information should debate whether some form of voluntary quality assurance mark for websites giving legal information might be desirable.

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