In the view of the current pandemic situation, while we are slowly adapting ourselves to the "new normal", we have also realized that working from home is actually possible. With court hearings being conducted on-line, the legal industry has also become adaptive to the situation. One such process that has witnessed huge acceptance now is virtual or on-line mediation.
WHAT IS VIRTUAL MEDIATION?
A virtual mediation is a process by which parties settle their disputes online without being present physically at a location. Meetings are held through video or teleconference and document submission is facilitated through a cloud-based infrastructure accessible through the internet. The mediator assists the parties to come to a mutually beneficial agreement that is acceptable to all parties.
GUIDELINES FOR VIRTUAL MEDIATION
Since virtual mediation is the 'big thing' right now, it becomes necessary to improvise efficiency. The following guidelines were set by the International Council for Online Dispute Resolution (ICODR) and are simple and practical.
Before starting with virtual mediation, there are a number of questions that need to be answered like,
Are the parties willing to use an online dispute resolution (ODR) process to resolve the dispute? Do parties have proper video equipment? Are the audio and video understandable? Does each party have enough bandwidth or proper wifi connection? It is necessary to consider all these aspects.
Ensure that you being the mediator are well versed with the technology. Initially using a new technology might be stressful, but parties should avoid having any preconceived notions. Conducting a trial run or dress rehearsal with the parties prior to the mediation to help them feel comfortable using the technology so that it does not interfere with their attempt to settle the matter during the mediation is a good option.
The mediator must ensure that neither the audio nor video portion of the mediation is recorded and should obtain a written commitment from each party regarding the same. Further, the guidelines suggest that while sharing documents during the mediation, the share screen platform should be used as it ensures security. The guideline also suggests that once all the parties are “in the room”, the mediation should be locked so that there is no unauthorized access.
The mediation should begin as a joint session with all the parties in the same room. If during the mediation, a party’s video or audio connection disconnects, the mediator should wait until the party is connected again and then repeat whatever that party may have missed due to the disconnection. The mediator and parties should have an alternative of using the telephone to listen in. Zoom also provides telephone numbers for the conference so that a party can use the telephone to listen in instead of video. The mediator should ensure that the parties have these numbers handy if the need arises.
The mediator should use a platform that is secure. The platform should have an end to end encryption. The mediator should ensure that the parties are not using any applications that share locations. Further, the mediator should also make sure that whatever videoconference technology is used, it does not “close down” after a specific interval of time. For example, Zoom closes out after 40 minutes so this could be problematic during a lengthy mediation.
Thus, parties may use online mediation efficiently for dispute resolution in today's times by keeping the above guidelines in mind. It will ensure speedy delivery of justice and takes mediation one step forward in the country.