A Ministry of Justice press release dated this Monday announced that British Columbia will become the first province to institute a system of online dispute resolution. Bill 44 — 2012, the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act, creates a tribunal with jurisdiction and powers very much the same as those of the small claims court but mandated to:
2 (1) . . . provide dispute resolution services in relation to matters that are within its authority, in a manner that
(a) is accessible, speedy, economical, informal and flexible,
(b) applies principles of law and fairness, and recognizes any relationships between parties to a dispute that will likely continue after the tribunal proceeding is concluded,
(c) uses electronic communication tools to facilitate resolution of disputes brought to the tribunal, and
(d) accommodates, so far as the tribunal considers reasonably practicable, the diversity of circumstances of the persons using the services of the tribunal.
Both parties must attorn to the jurisdiction of the tribunal for it to become seized of the case, except where some disputes with strata (a.k.a. condominium) corporations are concerned, in which case the corporations may be required to submit to the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
As yet the bill has only had first reading.
The backgrounder accompanying the press release explains:
· The service would use proven online technologies and be voluntary, except for strata corporations, which could be compelled to participate for certain strata disputes. Once online dispute resolution is started, ongoing participation would be mandatory until a voluntary or binding settlement was reached.
· The service would have four stages, with participants progressing to the next stage only if they were unable to reach agreement:
o The first phase would be an interactive dispute resolution guide, with information, tips and templates to help the parties reach a settlement.
o Stage two would be party-to-party negotiations, using online tools to make contact and exchange information. The tribunal would monitor and intervene in the discussions if necessary.
o Stage three would involve a case manager, who would contact the parties by phone or online to discuss the issues and attempt a facilitated settlement.
o If that failed, the final stage would be a tribunal hearing. A tribunal member would discuss the issues with the parties online, by phone, videoconference or occasionally in person and give a binding decision on the dispute.
· Tribunal members would be subject experts in the disputes they hear and be selected based on merit. Members would be appointed by cabinet.
· Several Australian states have mandatory civil administrative tribunals for small claims.
· Alternatives to online resolution, such as telephone, mail and even in-person hearings, would be available to people unable to access the online tools. British Columbians would still have the alternative of going to court.
I know that fellow Slawyer, Dave Bilinsky, is an expert in ODR, so I'm keen to hear what he thinks of this initiative and, particularly, how he sees IT being integrated into the process. I'm also chuffed — thank you, B.C. — because I'm talking a bit at LawTechCamp this coming Saturday about law and technology, with ODR as a topic; this will make it nice and pertinent.