Digital Courtrooms? Electronic Jurors? We are heading towards a time when the majority of legal disputes are settled over the Internet via online arbitration and trials.
While this idea may seem far-fetched to some, there are enough examples of it working today to show we are in the early stages of a radical transformation, allowing the legal system to be yet another part of our society to make growing use of available technology. The benefits of this will be a reduction in the amount of long delays for hearings, the costs of litigation will be minimal and the courts will be unclogged so they can focus on critical in-person trials.
Such trials will be fairer simply due to the fact that more people can afford to seek justice. Furthermore, the application of information technology in these online processes will enable both litigants and jurors access to more accurate case history information to make more educated decisions about starting a case in the first place and also in the verdicts. In short, online dispute resolution allows for a democratization of the legal process.
While some might argue that in certain cases the personal presence of participants is vital for the assessment of credibility, this is less true of the kinds of cases, particularly small claims, which are likely to be “heard" online.
"eCourt" activity has evolved from the digitization of back-office functionality. This has included electronic access to court documents, filings, payments, juror notification, scheduling and, of course, case history databases.
But online arbitration - the hearing and deciding of cases themselves - has begun to grow as a convenient and efficient system for settling disputes. Perhaps not surprisingly so, cases involving Internet activities have been early examples of the use of online dispute resolution. These have focused on arguments over Website addresses (URLs) and e-commerce payments or refunds.
However, now with public Web 2.0 sites the opportunity is being expanded to settle issues and arguments not just over property or corporate matters, but also for personal, political or entertainment ones as well. This is an evolution consistent with the growth of the Internet itself; tools are created with openness to their application. YouTube was created for entertainment, but is now being used for commercial promotion and professional communication. The point is the empowerment of the Internet community to avail themselves of technology - not to force them into one use or another. It is a social experiment that can be used for fun and serious means. But it also holds the potential to bring together the power of the Internet and the wisdom of the crowd for a faster, better justice system.
So on some online arbitration sites, for example, equal weight is given to serious cases as to amusements. An important aspect of this accessibility is that such a site be free (in most cases these are advertising supported). Users are able to register as members for free and then create cases, claim damages, call witnesses, vote as jurors, as well as upload electronic evidence such as video, images and documents.
Chris Travers is a USA-based Journalist and Internet Media Entrepreneur and owner of RealVerdict.com that provides online dispute resolution , opinions-on-demand and which is a service of Radeon, LLC.