Judicate brings justice online

27/08/2019 - 15:11

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As online mediation grows in popularity globally, Aaron McDonald says his Judicate platform will make access to justice easier.

Judicate brings justice online
Aaron McDonald says Judicate will be a better way of mediating small disputes. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

As online mediation grows in popularity globally, Aaron McDonald says his Judicate platform will make access to justice easier.

Aaron McDonald’s ambition when he founded Subiaco’s Pragma Lawyers in 2014 was to provide pragmatic legal services with a focus on fixed fees and early mediation.

Mr McDonald moved a step closer to that goal with the recent launch of Judicate, an online dispute resolution (ODR) platform he hopes will make access to legal services easier.

Speaking with Business News, Mr McDonald said ODRs were an effective way to mediate claims without having to escalate to litigation.

“Even when you’re winning, going to the Magistrates Court (of Western Australia) is a losing game,” he said.

“When you sue someone for tens of thousands of dollars, it’s almost a waste of time to engage a lawyer to spend time chasing that money.

“The legal fees will outweigh what you’re chasing and it makes no commercial sense.

“I thought there had to be a better way.”

Aimed at resolving business and personal disputes with damage claims under $100,000, Judicate’s mediators handle cases involving the provision of services, contractual disputes and unpaid invoices, with all mediation conducted through the site’s online portal.

Mr McDonald said he came up with the idea after noticing the number of clients who would pursue litigation for relatively small disputes.

In those situations, he argued, the cost of legal fees and the time spent often outweighed the damages sought.

“People in small and medium-sized businesses would know the pains of paying lawyers to do these sorts of things for them, and it’s just uneconomical,” Mr McDonald said.

In WA, mediation is already a standard process for civil matters, with all such matters that appear before the Magistrates Court requiring an initial mediation stage.

Data from The Supreme Court of Western Australia’s 2017 annual review provided evidence of the effectiveness of that process, Mr McDonald said, with 98 per cent of cases resolved during mediation.

By further reducing the amount of in-person time required, as well as associated legal costs, he said an online platform such as Judicate that limited the process to eight weeks could expedite judgements and make access to resolutions easier.

“It’s private, it’s cheaper [than litigation], you don’t need a lawyer, and you get the same outcome like an enforceable award or judgement you’d get from the Magistrates Court,” he said.

“This is all done online over video conferencing, where you have a mediator you can see and talk to as well as the other party, and you can both put in your point of view.”

While a nascent industry in Australia, Mr McDonald said ODR had already proved popular internationally.

In the US, Tyler Technologies advertises its Modria service as the world’s first ODR platform, with county courts in the state of Texas using the technology to save time and court costs.

Online mediation has also proved effective in Europe, with services such as Rechtwijzer in the Netherlands handling divorce and family mediation online.

Some online services such as eBay already use online mediation to resolve payment disputes, with the site estimated to handle up to 60 million disputes annually.

In its report on the future of the law profession, The Law Society of WA has said ODR had the potential to allow for easier access to justice, possibly reducing the justice gap.

However, while generally complimentary of the concept behind online mediation, it also wrote that ODR platforms needed to maintain affordability and procedural fairness if they were to be successful.

In terms of the procedural fairness of Judicate’s judgements, Mr McDonald said the platform abided by a publically listed set of rules and maintained that all mediators were required to hold regard for principles of law and concepts of fairness in their dealings.

While he said there could be a degree of apprehension about using an online platform to mediate disputes, Mr McDonald told Business News fair judgements could be made as long as the mediator had access to the facts and provided just reasoning for the outcome.

“We’re trying to develop a broad-brush justice system,” he said.

“The length of the process is not going to change the quality of that outcome.

“It’s get in, get out, and get a result quickly, because justice delayed is justice denied.”

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