Technology has become a part of everyday life in today’s world and most especially during this current Pandemic. Due to this unexpected occurrence, face-to-face mediation session at the LMDC in Nigeria was cancelled. However, the LMDC has been quite diligent by upgrading their rules and taking innovative measures to maintain their competitive edge- by embracing an efficient system of online dispute resolution, they have shown that they can adapt to changing circumstances.
Lending credence to the above is a recent case instituted through the High Court of Lagos State (H.C). This case borders on a family dispute involving child custody and welfare, which was resolved through the LMDC-ODR platform within a day. This case is a pointer to the LMDC’s ability to adapt to changes brought by COVID-19. On the other hand, Enugu State Multi-Door Courthouse (ESMDC) has also embarked on the same project.
Snapshot of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR):
Dr Babatunde Ajibade (SAN) emphasised that “the legal profession in Nigeria is not left out, technology is pervading our space in so many ways, we either use tech, or we can be scared of tech.”
Flowing from the above this blogger embraces this statement but believes that ODR is the new normal and has come to stay in Nigeria, particularly in the ADR sector. To buttress the point stated above is the recent virtual conferences that I have attended during this pandemic era, from the CIARB conference to the Guild of Adjudicators in Nigeria (GAIN) conference amongst others. These conferences have one thing in common, which is the use of technology/ Virtual platforms to continue to carry out their businesses.
ODR is a broad term that encompasses forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and court proceedings, which use the Internet as a part of the dispute resolution process. Thus Online alternative dispute resolution (OADR), or ADR online, denotes the use of technology, as a medium which is employed to conduct the proceedings of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). To resolve commercial disputes which arise- leveraging technology. In furtherance, Neutral private bodies within the prescribed guidelines of the LMDC procedures facilitate the proceedings.
Advantages of using ODR
Self-representation: This provides an opportunity for parties to represent themselves and save them unnecessary fee charges that could have gone to their Counsel.
Another prominent aspect of ODR is that it offers a speedy resolution of disputes. What this means is that decision can be reached within an hour or a day. Depending on the complexity of the case, and also it increases effective enforcement.
Cost-saving: Cost is also a dominant advantage of ODR, as both parties would save transport fare and accommodation cost amongst others if done at the confines of their homes. To buttress the point made above, Richard Susskind, in an article, revealed that ODR is “more radical than the traditional court setting as the process of resolving a dispute would be conducted via the internet.” What this means is that ODR allows for a more cost-saving approach to resolving a dispute.
The flexibility of the Process: Though in Nigeria, almost everyone now owns a computer or a laptop. Hence parties are allowed or can be at the confines of their home, and at such, they will be psychologically ready to think through their decisions and can stop the session at any time.
Challenges facing Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)
Accessibility and Power failure:
Though in Nigeria, almost everyone now owns a computer or a laptop, Internet accessibility has not gotten better. It fluctuates all the time or Internet still trips off, and power failure is a massive hindrance. However, most organisations like the LMDC have a generator that provides them with electric energy. Though that can’t be said for some of the parties that cannot afford a generator. That means that the sessions can be interrupted at any time, thus posing a significant challenge that can impede the efficiency of the ODR in Nigeria.
The Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse Online Dispute Resolution (LMDC-ODR) Guidelines:
It is essential to point out that these guidelines do not substitute other processes; instead, they complement them.
1) The LMDC will conduct the ODR session by employing a videoconference tool known as Zoom. However, if technical hitches are encountered during the session, then an alternative channel such as Whatsapp or Skype will be deployed.
2) The link, as mentioned above, will be dispatched to the Parties and their Counsel a day to the Mediation.
3) Then, the Parties and Counsel will have to log in 15 minutes before the scheduled time. Where one Party logs in and waits for 15 minutes from the expected time for Mediation and the other Party fails to log in except otherwise agreed by the Parties, the session will cease to hold, and it will be recorded that only one Party attended the Mediation.
4) Where both Parties are logged in, the Case Manager will assign the host function to the Mediator.
5) Where Parties reach an agreement, the Terms of Settlement will be finalised by the Mediator, and the Case Manager will forward the agreed TOS first to the Claimant/Applicant for signing and then to the Defendant/Respondent via email/ WhatsApp.
6) Parties are expected to download; print, sign and scan back to the Case Manager.
It is pertinent to point out that LMDC encourages Parties to abide by the agreed Terms of Settlement (TOS); however, in the event of a breach, the Court will aid with enforcement.
The Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse has yet again paved the way for a more straightforward backdoor dispute resolution that made it possible for parties to attend Mediation and Arbitration sessions remotely. This ensures that disputes are efficiently resolved through technology in a bid to enhance access to justice for the users or parties who seek remedies at the LMDC, particularly in this time of uncertainty posed by COVID-19.
Dr Babatunde Ajibade, SAN: Technology in Law-July 20th 2020 (Presentation on Facebook)
Hazel G, Access to Justice Literature Review: Alternative Dispute Resolution in Scotland and other jurisdictions.
H. Haloush – Online Alternative Dispute Resolution as a Solution to Cross-Border
Electronic Commercial Disputes -University of Leeds
Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse (LMDC) Twitter page.
Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse – Alternate Dispute Resolution Website
<https://lagosmultidoor.org/> Accessed 10th August 2020
Umegbolu Chinwe, Dispensation of Justice: Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse (LMDC) as a case study (Ongoing research at the University of Brighton)