Court innovations and access to justice in times of crisis
Background: COVID-19 has disrupted not only the health sector but also justice systems. Courts around the world have had to respond quickly to the challenges presented by the pandemic and the associated social distancing restrictions. This has created significant challenges for the justice system and such challenges are likely to be further compounded in the post-pandemic era as there is a 'tsunami' of COVID-19-related disputes predicted. Methods: This study will examine how global court responses have transitioned from being primarily traditional, face-to-face proceedings to online court processes (as supported by internet technology). By adopting a comparative approach, we will analyse how some countries have adapted to this shift to online mode while also maintaining a focus on access to justice. Results: We argue that online modes of dispute resolution, often referred to as Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), can promote resolution while facilitating social distancing in this new COVID-era. The rapid shift from traditional court processes to an online mode has further assisted the public, lawyers and experts to access the justice system in some jurisdictions, even during the crisis. In light of the scale of recent changes, there have been concerns about the capacity of courts to adopt newer technologies as well as issues relating to the impact of a new online model of justice, particularly in terms of the barriers for more vulnerable members of society. Further, the use of disruptive technologies in some courts have posed questions around whether outcomes generated by these innovations reflect the meaning of 'justice' in its traditional sense. Conclusions: This article argues that courts should embrace newer technologies that support court services while being mindful of possible tech-related issues that can impact on justice objectives. We argue that by placing further emphasis on alternative dispute resolution methods and ODR into the future, this might offset the likely tsunami of COVID-related litigation which would enable courts, hospitals, medical professionals and patients to settle disputes in a just, equitable and more efficient manner.