Consumer online dispute resolution pathways in Europe: An analysis into standards for access and procedural justice in online dispute resolution procedures

Emma van Gelder

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral ThesisInternal

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Abstract

Individual consumers increasingly resort to consumer online dispute resolution (cODR) pathways in their quest for redress. cODR procedures typically offer easy access and an affordable, timely and convenient procedure. In doing so, cODR can offer a solution to the increasing pressure on consumer access to justice. Indeed, individual consumers are increasingly struggling to find redress for the violation of their substantive rights, as available (offline) redress options are typically inaccessible given the cost, time investment and complexity of procedures. When consumers cannot access an enforcement mechanism to enforce their substantive rights, the law loses its meaning. At the same time, the quality of cODR procedures remains a challenge. In particular, it remains to be seen whether written cODR procedures with integrated time limits provide the parties with sufficient space and time to present their views; whether equality of parties is ensured when one party participates in the procedure via audio and the other via video; and whether online procedures ensure transparency, particularly if they use algorithms to resolve disputes.

Access to justice is usually presented and handled as a single concept, assuming that providing access to a CDR procedure is equivalent to providing access to a "just" dispute resolution procedure. This study treats "access" and "justice" as two separate elements and therefore treats them separately. The reason for this is to highlight the distinction between "access" to ODR and the "quality" of the ODR procedure provided. Certainly, access to justice includes not only access to dispute resolution bodies, but also includes the right to a procedure that meets minimum safeguards that ensure a fair procedure.

This thesis focuses on consumer online dispute resolution (cODR) procedures in Europe. It identifies three different pathways of cODR through which individual consumers can seek redress against traders for the infringement of their substantive rights: (a) traditional offline consumer dispute resolution bodies offering ODR techniques; (b) internal ODR processes offered by online intermediary marketplaces and (c) the EU ODR platform. The field of cODR is going through important developments in Europe, since new ODR providers are mushrooming and a growing number of ADR entities rely on digital technologies to resolve consumer complaints. This development is part of the more general development of the digitization of justice in Europe. Thus, while these procedures offer important assets such as speed, simplicity and affordability, concerns are raised about the quality of the procedures.
This research therefore subjects cODR procedures to a thorough evaluation in order to determine what legislative framework is needed in the EU to ensure both access and justice of cODR procedures. This means that the study examines how cODR procedures can ensure the quality of procedures without losing the efficiency benefits achieved by cODR, such as speed, low cost and simplicity. More specifically, the purpose of this dissertation is to examine what procedural quality standards are required to provide consumers with access to a just online dispute resolution body. In this research, the term "just" refers to a procedure that meets procedural safeguards laid down in the right to a fair trial. To achieve this goal, the research provides an overview of the use of ODR as a form of consumer dispute resolution in Europe, seeks to evaluate the current regulatory framework applicable to these cODR procedures, and identifies the procedural safeguards for cODR procedures that are necessary to ensure consumer access to just cODR. In doing so, the study also aims to contribute to the broader goal of increasing access to justice for consumers in Europe. Indeed, access to justice is under increased pressure, particularly for individual consumers with small claims.
The main question this research seeks to answer reads:

" What procedural quality standards should be in place for cODR procedures so that cODR becomes both an accessible and just pathway to redress for individual consumers?"
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Erasmus University Rotterdam
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Kramer, Xandra, Supervisor
  • Voet, S, Supervisor, External person
Award date18 Nov 2022
Place of PublicationRotterdam
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2022

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