The USAID New Justice Program has presented an innovative platform Solution Finder developed for online resolution of disputes relating to minor traffic violations, uncontested divorce, and child support alimony cases.
This platform is a result of joint efforts of the USAID New Justice Program and its Ukrainian partners since 2017 aimed at introducing modern online dispute resolution (ODR) technologies in Ukraine. It has been developed by experts of the Program with support of the High Council of Justice in cooperation with judges, lawyers, mediators, and other specialists.
Solution Finder has a user-friendly design, is easy to navigate, and intends to help Ukrainians:
- obtain organized legal information that will be automatically adjusted to circumstances of each specific case about dispute resolution pathways regarding minor traffic violations, uncontested divorce, as well as child support alimony cases;
- take an informed decision on further actions;
- based on templates prepare respective documents (applications and others) to be submitted to court or any other body depending on the chosen resolution pathway;
- submit documents to the court using electronic digital signature (EDS).
Types of disputes, with respect to which the platform offers information, have been determined based on the criteria of high frequency of such cases, possibility of their extrajudicial resolution, and simplicity.
“Many judiciaries across the globe are increasingly relying on online dispute resolution mechanisms to promote efficient, flexible, and timely access to court services. We are pleased that Ukraine now joins the growing list of countries providing such services to its citizens,” Jay Totte, Anti-Corruption Lead Specialist, USAID/Ukraine Office of Democracy and Governance, emphasized during online presentation of the platform to judges, lawyers, mediators, civil society representatives, mass media, and the public in general.
He pointed out that a key element of access to justice is providing people with easy to use and affordable mechanisms for settling disputes. That is why USAID through the New Justice Program has provided support for initiatives aimed at promoting justice sector innovations, including digital solutions that provide improved access to and delivery of justice services.
Mr. Totte said: “USAID is proud to assist in promoting people-centered justice services in response to the important justice issues that citizens and communities face.”
Supreme Court Chief Justice Valentyna Danishevska pointed out that the judiciary had been working on introduction of the Unified Court Information Telecommunication System for several years with a view to modernizing work in courts and introducing the E-Court platform for the sake of facilitating citizens’ access to justice and optimizing work of judges and court employees. Challenges that the judiciary now faces, including quarantine measures and essential underfunding of the judiciary, contribute to quicker implementation of remote work and digital technologies in order to protect court employees and visitors from the virus, as well as ensuring guarantees of transparency of judicial proceedings, notification of parties about court hearings, timely sending of court decisions, and timely sending of court cases to courts of higher instances.
Chief Justice Danishevska emphasized that developments and recommendations that may assist judges with speeding up of the consideration of cases are of utmost importance provided that the judiciary faces the staffing deficit and excessive workload on judges.
Valentyna Danishevska said: “We welcome all developers and all who have assisted with implementing this platform. We are convinced that judges and courts will highly appreciate such technologies and we are convinced that the society will very quickly appreciate these novelties. This platform deals with those categories of cases that are sensitive for people; so, if people have to wait less time for the court decision, it will ensure not only quick administration of justice, but will also increase people’s trust in the court as they will receive high-quality court services in a timely manner.”
In turn, Chair of the Verkhovna Rada Legal Policy Committee Andrii Kostin expressed gratitude to all people involved in the process of establishing the platform as the idea that initially seemed to be somewhere far in the future is now ready for use. He added that it is important to promote reconciliation of the parties: “The best outcome is when all parties have agreed to conditions that they are willing to voluntarily fulfill, which will also contribute to a decrease in the number of unenforced decisions in Ukraine.” As Mr. Kostin pointed out, courts have to deal with complex legal issues, while simple cases have to be considered in a simple and affordable manner for citizens without excessive legal terminology that is understood not by everyone as understanding of the process is the basic element of trust.
“I would like to assure you of support of the legislative branch for any new tools of procedural protection of people. If a person is ready to use a simple pathway, we have to provide such opportunity to this person. If a party thinks that it should be considered by court, this opportunity should be provided as well, – Andrii Kostin pointed out. – I consider it very broadly as one more means of alternative dispute resolution under the auspices of the judiciary in a procedural way, but this is an alternative option that will allow citizens to choose. I am in favor of the right to choose the best means of protecting own rights.”
Chair of the Council of Judges of Ukraine Bohdan Monich expressed his hope that the project will give impetus for the start of the functioning of e-justice in Ukraine. He also pointed out that the judiciary and judges will never be against appearance of any alternative procedure of dispute resolution in the society as the workload in the judiciary is extremely high.
Online dispute resolution in court is the generally available space by the court where parties may meet to resolve their dispute or case. The USAID New Justice Program invited experts from the U.S. to participate in the event, namely, Judge David Prince from the State of Colorado 4th Judicial District and Kevin J. Bowling, Court Administrator of the 20th Judicial Circuit in the State of Michigan, who informed representatives of the judiciary, Parliament, and civil society about opportunities of ODR and its benefits, including speed, money-saving capacities, higher level of satisfaction of parties to the dispute with outcomes of its resolution, as well as decrease in the workload of courts.
As Chief of Party of the USAID New Justice Program David Vaughn pointed out, “online dispute resolution provides ordinary people with an opportunity to solve a simple, yet important for them legal problem. And all that is needed for that is a smartphone, tablet, or computer.”
The presentation of the Solution Finder platform focused on the history of ODR development in Ukraine, as well as stages of developing the platform, along with demonstrating its functional capacities in detail.
Kyiv District Court of Odesa was a pilot location for the ODR project implementation. Chief Judge of the court Serhii Chvankin and Judge Volodymyr Petrenko told about the court’s participation in development and improvement of the Solution Finder platform, as well as its popularization among the population of Odesa region.
Lawyers of Odesa region have tested the system and it is now ready for use. The State Judicial Administration (SJA) has approved publication of information and a link to the platform at the website of Kyiv District Court of Odesa and has nothing against its publication at websites of other courts. The SJA will further take a decision whether the platform may be published at the portal of the Ukrainian judiciary.
Plans relating to further development of the Solution Finder platform include its roll-out at the national level and extension of the list to include other types of disputes, along with integration into the judiciary system (e-court), cooperation with the Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine while challenging public tender procedures, creation of personal user profiles, addition of new procedures and types of documents, introduction of the format of communication/agreement of positions between parties to the dispute, as well as provision of an opportunity to facilitate the use of mediation. As David Vaughn summed up, “In case this project is successfully implemented, there is an opportunity to expand this practice to the entire territory of Ukraine and to other types of cases that are important for citizens.”
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Newsletter of the Joint Technology Committee (USA) “ODR for Courts” offers a basic manual on online dispute resolution and describes several models of implementation, as well as specific possibilities and cautions concerning courts. The Joint Technology Committee has been established by the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), National Association for Court Management (NACM), and National Center of State Courts (NCSC).