Utah is making new moves to improve access to justice. After announcing plans to license paralegals to practice law in limited circumstances, Utah is the first state to launch an Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) pilot program, moving small-claims cases from the courtroom to your computer.
The Utah Supreme Court (“Court”) aims to leverage the technology citizens use in their daily lives to make justice more accessible. Resolving disputes on a cell phone rather than in a courtroom could enable speedy resolution of conflict and an increased participation rate, the Court believes.
The pilot began at West Valley City Justice Court in suburban Salt Lake City for small-claims cases under $11,000. Utah plans to expand the program throughout the state over the next several months.
Filing a Case
After filing an affidavit and summons with the clerk of the court, a plaintiff is required to register with the online Small Claims Dispute Resolution portal. The plaintiff must complete the registration within seven days of filing, or the case may be dismissed or forced to refile.
Upon being served with a claim, a defendant has 14 days to register within the ODR system or seek exemption due to an inability to participate in the online process.
The plaintiff and defendant are provided a neutral third-party facilitator to assist in reaching a settlement. All communications can be facilitated through online messaging, similar to an internet chat box. The goal is to reach a resolution within 14 days, unless the facilitator determines additional time will likely result in a settlement.
The case will be scheduled for trial if the parties can’t come to an agreement or the defendant is unable to participate in the online process.
Improving Access to Justice
Leveraging technology to improve access to justice isn’t new. eBay says it resolves more than 60 million disputes each year through its online Resolution Center. The alternative dispute resolution provider JAMS offers parties online mediation through its Endispute video application.
In the public sector, British Columbia launched an online tribunal in 2016 to address condo disputes, but has since expanded its jurisdiction to most small-claims cases worth $5,000 or less. The Civil Resolution Tribunal has handled more than 14,000 cases. A settlement was reached in roughly 85 percent of the 700 cases that were resolved as of early 2018. Only 12 cases have been decided by tribunal, according to representatives who spoke at the 2018 American Bar Association Vancouver Midyear Meeting.
Importantly, participants appear to appreciate the round-the-clock accessibility. Roughly 45 percent of participants use the tribunal outside of traditional court hours.
For more, watch Ethan Katsh, the “father of online dispute resolution,” discuss “Online Justice – What Can Technology Deliver?” at our The Future is Now: Legal Services 2.017 conference.
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