The competition for dispute business around the world seems to be gaining momentum. Whether it is the French courts launching English language courts to try and attract business from London or the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) consulting on changes to its rules for resolving disputes between foreign investors and states. Many different dispute resolution providers are modernising their procedures.
The International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) updated its rules already in December 2016. The revised rules, which came into force in March 2017 were designed to increase efficiency and transparency of the process.
China has however taken the bold step of launching “internet courts”. These are courts designed to deal with many of the issues that arise online. The Hangzou Internet Court has been around for a while and has expanded into other cities. Although based in China and conducted in the Chinese language the sheer volume of cases that it is dealing with means that it is worth watching closely.
Simplicity and ease of use is the stated objective, as well as continuous improvement. The website clearly states:
“The continuous iterative and innovative litigation platform makes the judiciary more convenient and the experience smoother.”
According to the online guidance:
“The entire process of the online proceedings is recorded on video and intelligent voice recognition technology is used in the trial，therefore the clerk may not attend the court session.”
The trials are conducted online, although they can be in person, and the presiding judge or the trial judge presides over the questioning and answering process, directing each party to ask the opposing party whether he or she has any question about the contested facts and directing the party who is questioned to answer the question.
Mediation is used as part of the trial process. The judge asks whether the parties are willing to participate in the mediation. It is the judge that presides over online mediation. This is an approach that is seen in other jurisdictions, but not often in common law jurisdictions.
According to press reports the court has dealt with over 11,000 cases in its first year.
While those involved with technology and online dispute resolution will be interested in the steps taken to allow the entire process to be conducted remotely, the investment in the internet courts shows the importance of an effective dispute resolution process to a country’s economy. If disputes cannot be resolved reasonably quickly and effectively, then businesses may take that into account when deciding whether or not to invest in any particular country. Even if doing business in a particular country, the effectiveness of the court system might lead one side or the other to push for an agreement that arbitration be used to resolve disputes, or that another country be the choice of court.