The B.C. government is getting into the online dispute resolution business. It unveiled plans to take small civil claims and condominium disputes out of the courts and put them online.
“Both individuals and business owners will find this a convenient and affordable way of reaching agreements,” B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond said in a statement. “Few people want to go to court to solve a legal dispute, which can be costly, intimidating and time consuming. A tribunal offers an innovative alternative to settling a dispute in a faster, more amicable way.” The government is hoping to launch the ODR infrastructure in 2013 or 2014 as a way to cut legal fees and travel costs for parties as well as to reduce the backlog of cases in the courts.
With the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act, the B.C. Ministry of Justice is predicting a 60-day dispute resolution process, compared with the 12 to 18 months it can currently take for cases to wind their way through the province’s Small Claims Court. The tribunal will be available for disputes worth up to $25,000 where both parties agree to participate. However, it will be mandatory in certain types of property disputes involving condominiums.
The Act mandates that disputing parties are to represent themselves in the tribunal proceeding, however provision is made for legal representation in certain circumstances.
The tribunal will progress in four stages, with participants moving to the next stage only if they are unable to reach an agreement:
- Self-Help Dispute Resolution using online, interactive tools with information, tips and templates to help the parties reach a settlement;
- Supervised Negotiations Online;
- Direct Intervention by a Case Manager to Facilitate Settlement; and
- Online Tribunal Hearing where a final decision is made – the order can be filed with the court giving it the same force and effect as if it were a judgment of that court.