Victoria looks to settle legal disputes online

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Victoria looks to settle legal disputes online

Hopes to improve equality of access.

Victorians could soon resolve civil and administrative disputes online using a new digital service offered by the state’s peak tribunal.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) is investigating introducing online dispute resolution (ODR) to improve citizen access to justice services, particularly for those with a disability or “experiencing the tyranny of distance”.

The tribunal - which hears and decides civil and administrative legal cases outside of the court system, without the need for legal support - currently requires individuals to front hearings with VCAT mediators and other parties in person.

But VCAT believes existing dispute resolution services could be extended to more people with greater convenience if the digital equivalent of habeas corpus can be enabled.

It is currently conducting an online dispute resolution pilot for small civil claims, which is being run by online dispute resolution technology provider Modron, after receiving an initial pot of funding.

The thinking is that even though current services are centred around citizen self-service, they're still “designed for a 20th-century service delivery model” and require “a significant paradigm shift to deliver digitally-enabled services for the 21st century”.

Such a service was recommended in the state's 2016 access to justice review, which found access to justice is “diminishing” and the gap between the “community’s needs and the justice system’s ability to meet those needs ... growing”.

With the pilot expected to conclude in October, VCAT is now looking to improve access to justice permanently though a “multi-staged, multi-year” project that builds on knowledge gained from the trial.

It points to a recent survey that indicated more than “70 percent of customers would be open to resolving their disputes online”.

While VCAT is not yet set on its sourcing model, it is calling for expressions of interest from providers who can provide either a commercial-off-the-self product or talent to build the service product in-house.

“The proposed delivery approach is likely to involve core VCAT and government resources, citizens and VCAT customers, multiple strategic partners, and vendors spanning a variety of services and technology platforms,” tender documents state.

“Therefore, invitees are advised that the likely delivery approach to be adopted will leverage agile-at-scale principles and cross-functional team structures, to ensure constant delivery of value for the public.”

The service is expected to become available from 2022.

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