2. Transforming dispute resolution in Latvia: Towards a people-centred justice approach

Access to justice for all is a fundamental underpinning of democracy and the bedrock of a strong social contract. It is a crucial part of the institutional foundation for inclusive and sustainable economic growth and a thriving investment climate. It plays an essential role in enabling the delivery of broader outcomes to people, including their ability to participate in the economy, employment, relationships and health (OECD, 2023[1]). In light of its relevance to well-being and sustainable development, access to justice has gained increasing importance globally with the development of international standards. Some prominent examples are the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 16.3 to “promote the rule of law at the national and international levels, and ensure equal access to justice for all” (United Nations, 2019[2]), and the recently adopted OECD Recommendation on Access to Justice and People-Centred Justice Systems (OECD, 2023[1]).

Concretely, access to justice refers to the ability of people, businesses and communities to prevent conflicts and obtain effective, fair, equitable and timely resolution of their legal and justice-related needs (OECD, 2023[1]). In a people-centred justice system, the user perspective is adopted as a starting point and places people at the core when designing and delivering legal and justice services within and beyond court rooms. Legal and justice services cover the spectrum of in-person, online or hybrid judicial and out-of-court services offering people and businesses support in the form of legal information, advice, resources and representation, as well as formal or informal mechanisms to resolve their disputes or address their legal needs.

The development of online dispute resolution (ODR) is part of an ongoing transformation to make justice systems more accessible and people-centred. People and businesses are experiencing conflicts in new ways and becoming more demanding in terms of how their conflicts are solved. Higher expectations of public services from more empowered users in a context of growing internal and external pressures, such as lower levels of trust in public institutions (OECD, 2022[3]), promises of the digital age and economic crises are major drivers that call for change in justice systems. This implies putting people’s needs at the centre of the design and delivery of justice services. Digital technologies and data are important leverages in the process transforming justice services.

There is no universally accepted definition of ODR. However, the two common essential elements of every definition are the types of dispute resolution processes covered and how digital technologies and data are applied to improve ODR-related processes and services – whether they are used to transform processes and deliver innovative justice services (e.g. providing seamless integration between pre-court and court services; applying algorithms to improve case management or suggest settlement options; improving identity and signature authentication mechanisms for parties and civil servants) or operationalise otherwise traditional mechanisms of dispute resolution (e.g. de-materialisation, bringing court hearings on line, enabling access to files through platforms).

ODR has a great potential to maximise access to justice. Adopting a people-centred justice approach in the process of using digital technologies and data to design and deliver ODR mechanisms is essential to ensure that people and businesses can obtain effective and timely resolution for their justice and legal needs, and have their rights enforced, in compliance with human rights (OECD, 2023[1]). In addition, ODR can contribute to enhancing access to justice by improving affordability and proximity to parties to dispute settlement and access to information (e.g. notifications, file cases, and decisions available on line) (OECD, 2021[4]). ODR can also contribute to the continuity and effectiveness of justice services. For example, ODR increases available channels for people and businesses to settle disputes. Likewise, ODR can help offer a simple, efficient and out-of-court solution to dispute settlement, positively impacting workload, resources and quality of court services.

Effective, efficient and people-centred justice is increasingly recognised as a critical dimension of inclusive growth and as a means of improving citizen well-being and economic performance (OECD, 2015[5]; 2021[6]).

Countries are developing people-centred approaches to delivering legal and justice services in this context. Latvia has joined this global trend. It has committed to modernising its justice system and facilitating access to justice for all, in line with SDG 16 and Indicator 16.3 on leaving no one behind. The Latvian Sustainable Development Strategy until 2030 (“Latvia2030”) (Government of Latvia, 2010[7]), the National Policy Development Plan for 2021-2027 (Government of Latvia, 2020[8]), the Digital Transformation Guidelines for 2021-2027 (Government of Latvia, 2021[9]) and the Justice Strategy for 2022-2026 (Government of Latvia, 2022[10]) are some of the strategic documents that reflect these efforts.

Latvia has undertaken several efforts to improve levels of access to justice by considering the needs of people (OECD, 2021[11]), businesses (OECD, 2018[12]) and vulnerable groups (OECD, 2023[13]) and evaluating legal and justice needs and its justice system (CEPEJ, 2022[14]). The country has led several reforms and initiatives to improve efficiency, including developing guidelines and performance indicators on case management and resource use (European Union, 2023[15]) and expanding the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in areas such as family and consumer law. However, Latvia still has a room to improve trust in justice institutions (OECD, 2022[3]).

Latvia has also taken steps to introduce digital technologies in the public sector in the past few years. In 2022, the country showed satisfactory levels in digital public services, above the EU average (European Union, 2022[16]). Some of these efforts are reflected in the Latvian justice system, including the country’s strategic guidelines for digital transformation (see Strategic approach to dispute resolution); the launch of the e-case portal (that enables submission and access to court case documents to parties); the provision of videoconference tools to courtrooms; and the introduction of authentication mechanisms, electronic signature and a court information system (“Tiesu informatīvā sistēma” - TIS).

Challenges remain around connectivity (e.g. broadband coverage, price) and integration of digital technology (e.g. interoperability, cloud) when contrasting Latvia to other EU member states (European Union, 2022[16]). This has implications in several dimensions of service delivery, including access to and effectiveness of Latvia’s justice system (see Managing technological advances, Data governance and its strategic use, Advancing in digital transformation in Chapter 3 and Pathways and the seamless transfer of information and cases in Chapter 3). Despite several online court services available in Latvia, no comprehensive ODR plan is currently in place to ensure their strategic design and delivery.

Legislatures, regulators, international organisations and scholars have taken different approaches to defining ODR, depending on the context. As such, when regulating ODR, it is important to agree on a shared understanding of the term (OECD, forthcoming[17]). Following the approach proposed in the forthcoming OECD Online Dispute Resolution Framework (“OECD ODR Framework”), this report considers a broad definition of ODR, understood as the use of digital technologies and data to support dispute settlement within and beyond the court system.

the OECD ODR Framework aims to contribute to coherently implementing ODR services and improving the seamless transfer of information and disputes between different dispute resolution avenues. Such an approach fits in with a set of initiatives that Latvia has been adopting to foster access to justice, contributing to people and businesses to obtain the effective and timely resolution of legal needs and enforce their rights in compliance with human rights obligations.

Following these initiatives, combined with the country’s strategic documents (see Strategic approach to dispute resolution), Latvia has started advancing towards developing a more effective framework for dispute resolution that leverages ODR.

Building on the OECD ODR Framework (see Box 2.1), this chapter identifies the pillars and design principles; assesses opportunities and challenges; and provides recommendations for the successful implementation of ODR in Latvia. This chapter also lays the groundwork for applying the ODR concept to specific dispute resolution mechanisms (e.g. mediation, adjudication, arbitration) and the three specific types of procedures later covered in this assessment report – simplified and warning procedures and consumer claims.

Applying the OECD ODR Framework’s three pillars to the Latvian context is detailed below. This set of pillars underscores the importance of placing the design and delivery of dispute resolution services at the centre and embedding digital technologies and data in the process beyond simply considering information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure.

A strategic approach to dispute resolution can help enhance efficiency, cost-effectiveness and user satisfaction while promoting a system responsive to the changing needs of individuals and communities. A well-designed dispute resolution strategy should aim to provide efficient, effective, fair and accessible dispute resolution mechanisms, regardless of users’ preferred channels. Whether specific, part of a broader digital transformation strategy or sectoral national strategy (e.g. national justice strategy), the strategy should consider justice and legal services, dispute settlement, digital technologies and data.

To successfully embrace digital transformation in dispute resolution, governments must set a clear vision and goals, adopt a whole-of-government approach, engage stakeholders, allocate resources effectively, and establish a well-defined roadmap with targets and key performance indicators (KPIs) for implementation (see Box 2.2).

The Latvian approach to access to justice and modernising its justice system comprises a set of strategic documents, notably the Latvia2030, the National Development Plan for 2021-2027, the Digital Transformation Guidelines for 2021-2027 and the Justice Strategy for 2022-2026. Latvia2030 defines Latvia’s long-term broad development vision. The strategy highlights innovation among its priorities (Government of Latvia, 2010[7]). The National Development Plan for 2021-2027 is Latvia’s medium-term development planning document. It sets Latvia’s commitments to achieve the 2030 SDGs and builds on Latvia2030. The strategy encompasses each of the points mentioned above, including setting a clear vision and goals, adopting a whole-of-government approach and engaging stakeholders, specifying resources, and setting clear funding sources, targets and bodies in charge of implementation.

Priority 6 of the National Development Plan for 2021-2027 (“Direction: Rule of law and governance”) contains the most relevant measures around access to justice and ODR. It sets targets on “developing a culture of dispute resolution through the use of ADR methods, including an increased role for mediation” (Measure 427) and ensuring accessible and efficient judicial and law enforcement systems (Measure 429). Strengthening capacity, improving co-operation and simplifying the process of court and out-of-court dispute mechanisms are among the means to attaining these measures. Digital technologies and data are equally mentioned as key transformational aspects to attain these goals. The Ministry of Justice, together with other ministries, municipalities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), are appointed as responsible institutions for implementation, and the state budget as the primary source of funding (Government of Latvia, 2020[8]).

A talented and skilled workforce and society are other priority areas deserving attention in Latvia (Priorities 2 and 4). The National Development Plan for 2021-2027 acknowledges the need to improve digital skills to foster inclusiveness in society and effectively deliver public services (Government of Latvia, 2020[8]). This confirms findings identified through interviews when several stakeholders emphasised the lack of digital literacy as one of the main challenges to the uptake of ODR in Latvia (see Actors in context).

Despite recognising the importance of digital technologies to leverage public services (Priority 4 – “Direction: Technological environment and services”), the strategy adopts a “digital-by-default” approach to digital transformation in the public sector or, in simple words, putting services and information on line. While this approach might seem like an expedient solution, it often overlooks the complexities of digital transformation and designing and delivering services, including the diversity of users’ needs and preferences.

Latvia could consider advancing towards a “digital-by-design” approach for the development of its upcoming strategy. Such an approach entails embedding digital technologies and data from the outset in the design and delivery of justice policies and services. It recognises that digital technologies and data are carefully applied to enhance effective service delivery and users’ experience, regardless of their opted channel (e.g. on line, telematic, in person). This helps avoid the pitfalls of exclusion and one-size-fits-all solutions.

The current Latvian Justice Strategy sets the rule of law as the ground for vision, values and priorities for 2022-26 (Government of Latvia, 2022[10]). The strategy encompasses a clear vision and goals, a whole-of-government approach, engaging stakeholders, and clear funding sources, targets and bodies in charge of implementation. The strategy defines the rule of law as awareness of rights and duties, access to recourse, law enforcement and safety, contributing to overall prosperity and growth. Promoting a fair judicial system, digital transformation of justice services and a safe business environment are among the five main priorities of the justice strategy.

Linked to its vision and priorities, the document renews Latvia’s commitment and ongoing digital transformation efforts to leverage access to justice (Government of Latvia, 2022[10]). Among the strategy's objectives, Latvia emphasises the development of online channels for dispute resolution for in-court and out-of-court dispute settlement. The strategy also mentions leadership, skills and digital transformation of justice among pre-conditions for the sustainability of objectives in the long term (Government of Latvia, 2022[10]). These are common and cross-cutting to the 12 specific policy areas covered in the strategy (e.g. constitutional law, administrative law, commercial law and civil rights).

Expanding opportunities for the engagement of stakeholders in policy making and accountability of decisions, enhancing communication with the public and fostering a justice ecosystem and co-operation within and outside Latvia are among the main targets for leadership. This is present, for example, in promoting stakeholders’ meaningful participation, including vulnerable groups, in constitutional and real state law policies, as well as accountability mechanisms to justify how engagement is considered in policy and decision making.

The strategy also shows concern for the future of the workforce in justice. Reflecting priorities set in the National Development Plan for 2021-2027, the Latvian government commits to promoting institutional changes, including organisational structure, learning culture and ways of working, and supporting upskilling (e.g. communication, analytical skills, flexible thinking, digital user skills) and retaining civil servants following the current and upcoming needs of the justice sector. These commitments are found in the Justice Training Centre and initiatives to share good practices, for example.

Robust, reliable and safe infrastructure, online services and gradual adoption of emerging technologies are top commitments of the Ministry of Justice for delivering a modern and people-centred justice. The Latvian justice strategy puts forward digital transformation as a means to leverage access to justice in the country (Government of Latvia, 2022[10]). This encompasses cross-border legal co-operation and linking justice services to customer service centres. The strategy emphasises other important areas where digital technologies and data can be beneficial for business environments, such as the implementation of the EU Directive 2-19/1151 on the use of digital tools and processes in company law (European Union, 2019[23]), the development of Business Registers Interconnection System (BRIS) and Beneficial Ownership Registers’ Interconnection System (BORIS) processes (Government of Latvia, 2022[10]).

The strategy underlines the importance of digital technologies and data to leverage out-of-court dispute resolution mechanisms and further develop the e-case platform and portal for effective access to online court proceedings. The strategy also mentions the importance of triage mechanisms, the integration of ADR in court systems and online publication of court decisions. Digital technologies and data are mentioned as important means to improve the efficiency of the internal processes of courts and enhance law enforcement. The Latvian justice strategy is concerned with a trustworthy and safe use of data, notably in light of the potential risks justice data can entail to data subjects. At a societal level, the strategy aims to promote communication campaigns to provide information on the value of data in the public sector and empower people on their rights and recourse for data protection.

In parallel, the Digital Transformation Guidelines for 2021-2027 highlight the digital transformation of justice among its action areas. The accessibility of services, the simplification of proceedings and upskilling the justice workforce are emphasised in the strategy. The document also covers justice data, particularly the structuring of said data. Importantly, the guidelines in the field of digital transformation are a cross-sectoral planning document that defines national priorities in the field of digital transformation, as well as basic principles in the aspects of digital transformation that should be taken into account when planning and implementing sectoral policies. The strategy strongly emphasises the digital transformation of dispute resolution mechanisms (in-court and out-of-court) and the implementation of Phase 2 of the e-case program, with detailed steps and “required actions”.

Implementing the OECD ODR Framework requires considering a wide range of stakeholders at multiple levels (OECD, forthcoming[17]). Policy makers need to consider creating and maintaining rules and institutions within a coherent framework. This comprises setting up institutions, creating or remodelling legal frameworks, hiring, training, and retaining staff, building and updating ICT infrastructure and managing the associated cultural changes that ODR entails (OECD, 2021[24]).

In Latvia, the digital transformation of the public sector is co-ordinated by the Information Society Council, of which the Minister of Justice is a member. The lead rests with the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development (VARAM). This ministry co-ordinates the activities across Latvia. In addition, inter-institutional working groups are concerned with the details of the digital justice strategy. Likewise, Latvia has put in place several working groups and steering committees to drive the implementation of Latvia’s strategies on the digital transformation of justice. Some examples are the E-Case Council, the Interinstitutional Working Group, the Information System Users Working Groups and the E-Case Program Council (see Table 2.1).

Overall, Latvian authorities show a commitment to improving the efficiency and accessibility of justice, including through the introduction of digital technologies and, in particular, tools such as ODR. The Latvian Court Administration trusts that ODR can further enhance access to justice by helping deliver justice services more simply, faster and at lower costs (Government of Latvia, 2021[25]).

Other stakeholders show a strong interest in the implementation of ODR. Interviews carried out for the development of this report reflected their awareness and involvement in some of the government’s initiatives in ODR. Business associations representing finance and insurance institutions expressed seem keen on expanding ODR in Latvia as an avenue to standardise proceedings for dispute resolution, improve certainty in dispute outcomes, reduce time for payments, spare human resources, facilitate new entrants to the Latvian market and improve economic welfare.

Stakeholders in the front-line of service delivery seem equally supportive of ODR. Professional associations of judges, arbitrators, ombuds and mediators, lawyers and civil servants showed interest in having at their disposal tools enhanced by digital technologies and data for the automatic completion of information, verification of addresses and jurisdictions, calculation of state fees and remote consultations. These groups of stakeholders emphasised the importance of putting users at the core of designing justice services and considering an omni-channel approach to ensure effective access to justice, regardless of users’ preferred channels to legal and justice services.

At the same time, some of the biggest challenges for ODR in Latvia revolve around culture, digital talents and skills and ICT infrastructure (e.g. Internet connection, hardware). Fact-finding interviews revealed a certain level of scepticism about embracing further innovation in justice from various justice stakeholders who would be affected by the change. Such scepticism might result from previous digitalisation attempts that might not have always been perceived as successful by the judiciary staff and service users.

Looking ahead, to tackle these challenges, it would be important to involve stakeholders (e.g. law makers, policy makers, court administrators, judges, public servants, lawyers, ombud schemes, arbitrators, mediators, professional associations, translators, notaries, ICT staff, technology service providers, businesses and citizens) as early as possible and throughout the whole process of designing and delivering ODR services in Latvia and monitoring barriers to stakeholders’ participation. Besides increasing a sense of ownership of ODR services, involving stakeholders could foster dialogue and awareness of digital transformation in justice and a cultural change among justice stakeholders.

At the level of delivering ODR services (e.g. by court administrations, judges, ombud schemes, arbitrators and mediators), legal frameworks and policies need to be translated into concrete daily practices. Challenges in the governance of ODR are not limited to law makers, policy makers and justice administrators. Instead, the needs and expectations of service users (see Vulnerable groups, Businesses as parties, ODR involving public bodies), professional associations, notaries, mediators, lawyers, judges and civil servants, ICT staff and service providers should be factored in when designing and delivering people-centred ODR services.

Leadership should continue its efforts by implementing initiatives that foster openness to innovation and a learning culture within justice institutions. For example, Latvia could support initiatives where civil servants are encouraged to learn, and exchange good practices for instance through working groups and task forces within justice and across sectors. This helps nurture civil servants’ curiosity and mitigate their risk aversion.

Within the public sector, fostering a learning culture where civil servants are encouraged to develop new skills, apply knowledge and nurture their curiosity can help increase their engagement and buy-in for using digital technologies and data in ODR. It also equips the justice sector to deliver better services to people (OECD, 2021[26]). In addition, in line with practices in some OECD countries, such as Canada and France (see Box 2.3), other avenues to assist the public sector and people in embracing ODR would be providing trainings to civil servants to help self-represented individuals who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with using digital tools (see Vulnerable groups and ODR and justice institutions) or involving community librarians in providing basic guidance on online legal and justice services.

A particular stakeholder group that requires integration in different stages of the design and delivery of dispute resolution services are technology services providers – both internal (e.g. as part of court, arbitration, ombud or mediation institutions) and external/outsourced (see Public and private partnerships for ODR). Fact-finding interviews revealed that ICT teams operating within justice institutions in Latvia receive legal and institutional support (e.g. from law makers, policy makers). Additionally, a comprehensive approach involving the entire government, such as working groups and taskforces, is adopted during the design and delivery phases of digital transformation projects.

Non-governmental and private service providers are an integral part of the full chain of legal and justice services. Involving justice service providers and technology service providers allows for a collation of perspectives and experiences of people facing legal and justice needs and creates space for listening to users of the justice systems (OECD, 2021[6]). Nevertheless, a challenge remains to create a collaborative, open and agile environment to bring together justice and technology service providers. The delivery of people-centred justice comes with a wide range of responsibilities across state and non-state bodies and calls for collaboration to more effectively address people’s legal and justice needs in a timely manner. Understanding and embedding the culture of collaboration between different service providers is essential to achieve the desired outcomes of meeting users’ needs and expectations.

ODR holds opportunities and risks for vulnerable groups.1 By putting users’ needs at the core of designing and delivering services, digital technologies and data can adapt justice services to special needs and bring justice closer to people. During fact-finding meetings, several stakeholders emphasised the advantages that ODR could potentially bring to enhance access to justice in Latvia for vulnerable groups. Among the examples, stakeholders mentioned the importance of facilitating access to online services and information, including catalogues and online one-stop-shops for people with reduced mobility, suffering from certain health conditions or living in remote areas. ODR also shows potential to make access to justice more affordable by allowing people to consult information and services without the need to travel long distances or interrupt their routines to visit public facilities.

From another perspective, however, digital technologies and data may exclude those users who cannot or do not want to interact through online channels. Access to online justice services can be a concern in particular to elderly groups in Latvia. The number of internet users considerably drop for people above the age of 55 compared to other countries (OECD, 2020[30]). Stakeholder interviews revealed a strong awareness of the potential risks ODR could entail. For example, on several occasions during the fact-finding interviews, stakeholders shared concerns about the lack of digital user skills (e.g. use of a computer or accessing information on line), access to infrastructure (e.g. broadband connection, a computer) by households in Latvia, and resources to purchase devices or software among a ratio of the Latvian population are potential barriers for accessing ODR services.

Adopting a people-centred approach when designing justice services is the starting point for achieving higher levels of quality and inclusion of justice services. In particular, aiming for omni-channels as a principle can help design user journeys that work for users across all channels (e.g. screens, phone calls, virtual assistance or face to face) seamlessly. Consolidating channels and ensuring integration and interoperability of services can improve coherence in the outcomes of a service, regardless of the channel(s) used (OECD, 2022[20]). Using non-digital channels as opportunities to engage, inform and encourage users to support the transition to the use of digital channels is another form of bringing users, notably vulnerable groups, closer to digital transformation in the medium and long terms. Latvia has already been taking steps in this regard by training community librarians and making public libraries available as access points for people attending hearings or consulting information on line about their cases.

To fully unlock the potential of digital technologies and data in implementing ODR services to consider vulnerable groups, the Latvian government would need to approach the design and delivery of public services by treating data as a strategic asset (see Data governance and its strategic use). This implies understanding the need for qualitative and quantitative data and appropriately using them to iterate throughout the service lifecycle (OECD, 2022[20]). Following such an approach can positively impact serving people’s needs, notably vulnerable groups.

Interviews also revealed that certain vulnerable groups (e.g. the Roma community) often suffer from similar limitations regarding traditional channels of justice services. For example, low education may prevent certain groups from understanding the justice system and responding adequately, such as submitting and/or replying to a claim, providing documents and filling in forms. Other important barriers identified were difficulty in understanding communications by non-Latvian speakers in the country and an overall lack of awareness of justice institutions. For example, interviews suggested that some citizens do not know how to explain their applications and which applications to bring, even in cases where the documents they receive are written in relatively easy-to-understand language.

While ODR has great potential to support vulnerable groups, interviews and desk research suggest that Latvia may need to consider enhancing digital literacy and legal awareness to empower their citizens, notably vulnerable groups, and increase the buy-in of innovative solutions in justice. Efforts can consider strengthening community legal education and providing self and guided help to improve understanding of rights, duties and recourse to justice. Partnering with civil society organisations and community services (e.g. local authorities, trusted members of the community, or public officials) is another avenue to involve the local community in the delivery of justice services (see Box 2.3) (OECD, 2021[6]).

Designing ODR mechanisms involving businesses on one or both sides of a dispute requires considering different types of businesses. Micro and small businesses, for instance, have different needs in terms of access to justice than large companies. In the case of Latvia, this is particularly relevant as the country has a large population of micro-businesses2 – 97 220 in 2022 (Statista, 2022[31]). Micro-businesses accounted for 92.7% of all businesses in Latvia in 2022 (European Union, 2022[32]).

Micro and small enterprises often struggle to engage with traditional justice systems (OECD, forthcoming[17]). Litigation options are often perceived as too expensive, slow, and cumbersome by smaller businesses (Blackburn, Saridakis and Kitching, 2015[33]). Given the reduced capacities and smaller resources available to these groups of businesses, the cost and non-monetary burden of conflict is relatively higher for them (OECD, 2017[34]). Against this background, Latvia could consider introducing particular ODR pathways for micro and small enterprises. For example, ombud schemes or conciliation procedures could be introduced for business-to-business (B2B) conflicts. Currently, such approaches are limited in Latvia. However, there is great potential to also offer swift and affordable justice to businesses by way of such schemes, in particular, for small value disputes.

As with citizens, it is essential to understand the justice needs of businesses in order to design useful ODR options for them. As part of the agile approach to justice service design, Latvia would benefit from mechanisms to better understand the specific justice needs of businesses, particularly micro-enterprises. Legal needs surveys are one way to gather the necessary empirical evidence (OECD/Open Society Foundations, 2019[35]). This would allow the Latvian government to meet businesses where they are with their access to justice needs rather than requiring them to adjust to inefficient public structures. Empirical research shows, for example, that businesses prefer dispute resolution mechanisms that provide them with more control (PricewaterhouseCoopers and Europa-Universität Viadrina, 2005[36]). ODR mechanisms follow accordingly as they provide businesses with more control, taking as examples mediation and conciliation.

The use of ODR mechanisms for disputes has specific challenges. ODR mechanisms, notably ADR, might need adjustments as dispute resolution mechanisms traditionally build on the assumption of private relationships between parties rather than an asymmetric relationship, in which one party (the state) holds public power over the other. However, ODR can also bring value to dispute settlements involving public institutions.

In addition to saving time and costs, ODR can enhance citizen and business trust in public institutions (Noone and Ojelabi, 2020[37]). For example, offering fast and efficient ODR of tax-related disputes can promote good government-taxpayer relations (Sourdin et al., 2016[38]). In Latvia, the advice-first approach has proven very successful. At the same time, users might be sensitive to whether a possible involvement of the state on both sides (i.e. as a provider of dispute resolution services and a party) can impact the neutrality of services offered.

A further issue that merits attention is the involvement of public bodies and public departments in dispute resolution pathways. ODR may already start as part of a particular public body's services. For example, a public register may annex an ODR mechanism and legal aid on its website. Interviews have shown that some progress in this area has been made. However, links between different services could be improved using one-stop-shop platforms (see One-stop-shop in Chapter 3).

Modernising justice systems often calls for significant changes in skills and institutional environments and may require simplifying and standardising existing processes (Reiling and Contini, 2022[39]).

A crucial issue in implementing digital transformation initiatives such as ODR is bridging the digital skills gap. ODR requires that civil servants master the necessary skills and expertise to maximise the benefits ODR can offer. Creating an environment that enables and fosters the development of skills and talent is part of the challenge of integrating ODR and promoting broader digital transformation reforms in the justice system. A learning culture that encourages digital transformation must be embraced at all levels (OECD, 2021[26]). This starts from an organisation’s leadership in encouraging and providing a safe environment where civil servants can experiment, learn and develop their capacities to deliver better justice services in the long run.

Latvia has taken steps to bridge the digital skills gap within its justice institutions. The Court Administration regularly promotes training sessions for judges and administrative staff on the latest features provided by the TIS. These training sessions aim to help users become familiar with the platform, including the use of the newly adopted tools, and increase the efficiency of the judicial process. Civil servants recognised workshops on TIS functionalities (e.g. introduction of e-files) among their most valuable training sessions in 2021 (Government of Latvia, 2021[40]).

In 2022, Latvia concluded a four-year training period on the effective use of ICT skills for 3 470 employees of the justice system and affiliated institutions (e.g. judges, court employees, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, investigators, forensic experts, policy makers and implementers, notaries, lawyers). The training was carried out within the framework of the European Social Fund project "Justice for Development" and covered several topics, including the use of jurisprudence and litigation databases, good practices for everyday computer use in courts and the use of electronic documents, digital evidence, information security, cyber security and personal data protection (Government of Latvia, 2022[41]).

In 2023, Latvia launched the Justice Academy, a training centre for developing qualifications and continuously improving civil servants’ skills in justice while performing their duties. From 2025, training sessions and seminars will be directed to judges, court assistants, prosecutors, assistant prosecutors, investigators and lawyers. Latvia is currently working to approve the regulatory acts related to establishing the Justice Academy and developing its curriculum.

While judges are expected by law to attend training (Government of Latvia, 1993[42]), there is no such requirement for other civil servants in the justice system. Likewise, digital literacy does not seem to be addressed in any specific law or skills framework for the justice sector. To ensure consistent levels of digital literacy among all members of the justice system, including ADR, Latvia could consider integrating digital user skills as components of a justice sector skills framework and extending training obligations to other civil servants. Latvia would also benefit from having the Justice Academy integrate in its programme skills around the management and use of data and ethical considerations on using digital technologies and data. This would help mitigate risks involving the potential misuse of digital technologies, including emerging technologies and data in the justice sector in Latvia. Likewise, it would be beneficial to consider integrating training throughout the whole justice civil servants’ career lifecycle. This could be done, for instance, in the context of the Justice Academy project.

The changing ecosystem of ODR raises questions about the role public and private sector service providers can play in delivering services. Non-governmental and private service providers might be in a position to develop attractive dispute resolution services following agile and innovative approaches (OECD, forthcoming[17]). Creating the right conditions for private service providers to develop ADR platforms can foster the uptake of ADR in Latvia and potentially help reduce the number of cases that go to court. When involving such actors, the process should consider, for example, commissioning processes that value a people-centred approach.

Some jurisdictions have seen the emergence of private service providers complementing ODR services offered by public institutions. This can take different forms. For example, business associations might set up a customer dispute resolution system. Establishing private ODR platforms could also be an option for certain cases, such as small claims or consumer disputes. In other instances, laboratories and start-ups have been developing solutions that help people and businesses understand the legal aspects of a potential conflict; assigning neutral third parties for cases; drafting letters to parties and dispute resolution institutions; collecting relevant information from parties to diagnose a conflict or issue; setting up resolution flows; and creating customisable document and e-mail templates, real-time dashboards, pre-configured decisions and reports.

Integrating ODR mechanisms with court systems is key for a seamless experience for people, businesses, judges, court assistants, attorneys and mediators involved in pre-court and court dispute resolution. Seamless integration of ODR systems enhances the potential for successful collaboration between public and private service providers. For example, should a private ODR platform be established for certain cases in Latvia, such as the simplified procedure or consumer cases, it would be essential to maintain a strong link with the court system. This would ensure that parties act in good faith and that ODR settlements are enforceable in courts (see Box 2.4). The ODR settlement could hold a legally binding force.

Fact-finding interviews have revealed that technology-based dispute resolution services are rarely offered on a private basis in Latvia. In particular, Latvia seems to lack a thriving LawTech start-up scene like those in other OECD countries, such as Estonia, Germany and the United Kingdom. A potential avenue for developing ODR in Latvia is establishing an ecosystem that promotes legal tech initiatives and encourages private provision of ODR services. Relevant elements for such an ecosystem include regulatory practices that foster innovation in ODR services by private service providers, making funds available for LawTech start-ups and fostering the development of skills to support competitive start-up leadership.

Consideration could be given to providing funding for LawTech start-ups through a competitive funding call. Similar funding mechanisms are in place, such as those offered by Innovate UK, the United Kingdom’s national innovation agency. LawTech start-ups can apply for general innovation grants, and there are also specific funding rounds dedicated to the LawTech sector.

Other initiatives to promote legal tech and encourage innovation are hackathons organised by public institutions (e.g. Ministry of Justice, Consumer Rights Protection Centre) in collaboration with universities, associations and professional organisations. Likewise, co-operation with regional and local start-up events (e.g. Techchill, Startup Days Latvia, sTARTUp Day Estonia, Deep Tech Atelier) would further align the ODR agenda with the needs of service providers and users.

ODR requires a legal and regulatory framework that not only authorise certain practices but also supports further advancements in the area. The first aspect, authorising practices, is necessary to ensure that procedural steps can be carried out online. This may concern, for example, submitting and signing documents, sitting hearings or making proof of identity through ODR platforms. The second step, supporting further advancements, refers to creating opportunities and possibilities for courts, arbitration bodies, ombuds and mediation services to adopt new online practices or collaborate with private ODR service providers.

Effectively introducing ODR would require amending the Latvian Civil Procedure Law and other relevant laws governing court proceedings, notably the Arbitration, Mediation and Consumer Rights Protection Laws. Certain reforms would also enhance the uptake of ADR mechanisms in Latvia.

In the case of the Arbitration Law, Latvia could consider strengthening the independence, objectiveness and fairness of arbitration institutions and arbitrators. This could encompass further detailing high ethical standards prescribed in Section 14 (5), Section 16 (2), Section 17 (1) and (2), and Section 22 of the Arbitration Law (Government of Latvia, 2014[50]). To enhance quality and trust in arbitration, Latvia could also consider amending the Arbitration Law with an annulment procedure in case of a breach of independence, objectiveness and fairness of an arbitral decision. Likewise, arbitration could be strengthened by reforms providing legal certainty for the arbitral awards rendered.

To support the digital transition of arbitration services, Latvia could standardise and specify the use of certain digital tools in arbitration. Stakeholders have reported that laws sometimes cast doubt on the validity of arbitral awards arising from online procedures. In particular, addressing stakeholders’ concerns, amendments to the Arbitration Law might be required to establish a precise mechanism for identifying participants in online hearings.

Additionally, there is room for improving the Mediation Law as part of legal reforms to help transition to ODR. It is worth noting that mediation needs less direct regulatory support for online aspects of dispute resolution. Instead, consideration could be given to making mediation more appealing to realise its full potential, whether online or offline. Indeed, as highlighted in the previous OECD country review, Access to Justice for Business and Inclusive Growth in Latvia (OECD, 2018[12]), and in fact-finding interviews with stakeholders, the reduced uptake of mediation primarily stems from its lack of attractiveness, as opposed to issues related to digital tools themselves (see Advancing in digital transformation in Chapter 3).

Several measures could be adopted to improve the uptake of mediation in Latvia. For example, the country could consider amending Section 14 of the Mediation Law to change the nature of a mediation agreement. Instead of a certification issued as the outcome of mediation, the settlement could be immediately enforceable. A middle-ground solution could involve offering parties the option of an enforceable settlement. Likewise, Latvia could consider revising the Civil Procedure Law to specify that a mediation agreement is the basis for the writ of execution, following amendments to Section 14 of the Mediation Law. Latvia could also revise the Civil Procedure Law to specify a procedure listing grounds for review of a mediation agreement, following amendments to Section 14 of the Mediation Law.

It is likely that the necessary adjustments in the Latvian legal framework regarding ODR cannot be consolidated into one single ODR law, as it could result in potential overlap with other existing legislation on specific areas of dispute resolution (e.g. the law on Judicial Power, Civil Procedure Law, State Ensured Legal Aid, Arbitration Law, Mediation Law). In this regard, one option could be introducing changes to the litigation process through the Civil Procedure Law. Ombud regulation could be introduced through a separate law or amendment to the Consumer Rights Protection Law. It would be important that legislation and the regulatory framework refrain from prescribing specific tools or solutions, given fast-paced changes in the digital age and the rapid development of ODR tools.

A further step involves introducing and clarifying the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in out-of-court and in-court dispute resolution, notably the automation of certain processes and case decisions. Some AI applications might face legal obstacles in Latvia. Article 92 of the Latvian Constitution states, “Everyone has the right to defend his or her rights and lawful interests in a fair court.” Currently, this is understood to require the presence of a human adjudicator. It is also worth noting that there are relevant AI use cases that do not concern decision making and decision drafting per se and are, therefore, less contentious.

Regarding the cross-border aspect of ODR, consideration could be given to enhancing the international enforcement of mediation. A recent development is the Singapore Convention on Mediation, specifically the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements resulting from Mediation. Given Latvia’s status as an EU member state, decisions regarding this matter would need to be made at the EU level. Latvia could support signing the Singapore Convention at the EU level (United Nations, 2018[51]).

Currently, many jurisdictions, including Germany, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, are revising their dispute resolution laws to mandate and support ODR. In the case of an EU jurisdiction such as Latvia, additional impetus for reform comes from the European Union, encompassing both national and international approaches. Other reform initiatives in the area of ODR are under discussion, in addition to existing EU instruments, such as the European ODR Platform for consumer claims and FIN-NET (Financial dispute resolution network) for claims related to financial services (see Box 2.6).

An effective approach in identifying legal domains and types of claims suited for ODR involves considering whether an online process adequately addresses parties’ needs and dispute concerns. For policy makers, the suitability of ODR to certain legal domains and types of claims matters when designing laws and institutions. The suitability of ODR may also vary depending on each country's legal, institutional, technological and cultural contexts.

Conceptually, in civil and commercial law, all legal domains and all types of claims are potentially well suited for ODR. Nonetheless, examining the implementation of ODR across jurisdictions reveals that certain legal domains and types of claims are particularly well suited (see Box 2.7).

Interviews suggested that Latvian stakeholders generally share the perception that ODR holds potential across all legal domains and types of claims within civil and commercial laws. Some stakeholders raised concerns about whether certain elements of a dispute resolution procedure might better take a non-online form. For example, some Latvian judges emphasised that having a witness or party present in person is sometimes essential to form a comprehensive impression of their oral statements. However, this should not challenge the overall appropriateness of ODR provided that there is flexibility to incorporate non-online elements into proceedings if desired or needed by the involved parties or circumstances of the case, ultimately emphasising the importance of a digital-by-design approach to ODR (see Managing technological advances).

Latvian citizens and businesses overwhelmingly endorse ODR for civil and commercial matters, indicating strong support. This sentiment has been succinctly captured in interviews as "the more ODR, the better". Awareness regarding vulnerable groups, particularly within court administration, is evident and emphasised in a dedicated section (see Actors in context).

Digital transformation significantly alters interactions between people, businesses and public institutions. As societies and economies become increasingly digital, governments need to embrace digital transformation to meet the expectations of more demanding and empowered service users (OECD, 2020[19]). As people and businesses expect the public sector to provide services and policies that deliver adequately on the promises of the digital age, public institutions are constantly challenged by the fast pace of changing societies, the increasing demands of citizens, and the allocation of resources and internal capacities, such as skills and infrastructure.

Reflections surrounding the digital transformation of justice often assume this is a technical problem requiring a technological solution. Historically, the e-government approach certainly encouraged this view of taking analogue processes and making them available on line (OECD, 2020[57]). However, such an approach fails to account for the broader challenges of applying the digital-by-design approaches that can transform outcomes for people.

Digital technologies in the form of common components and tools should be seen first as a means to support teams in meeting the needs of people rather than an end in itself (OECD, 2020[57]). Transforming dispute resolution mechanisms in the digital age is less about digital technologies and more about enabling technology and platforms that can help governments respond to the needs of their services’ users. Combining common components, hosting and infrastructure with sound digital and data governance is the most suitable approach (see Data governance and its strategic use).

Despite digital transformation being among the country’s main priorities (see Strategic approach to dispute resolution), the assessment phase of this project revealed considerable gaps in underlying hosting, infrastructure and common components, such as software, cloud-based solutions, data registers and catalogues. Investments should not be limited to technology but also capacity to support implementation. This may include engagement with service teams, actively showcasing what is available throughout the public sector; supporting the product teams to address barriers to adoption; and helping to quantify the benefits of using common components and tools instead of developing individual solutions. Adopting such a holistic approach can help service teams deliver not only at pace and scale but with a level of quality and consistency of user experience that builds public trust and coherence among otherwise disparate public sector organisations (OECD, 2020[57]).

Another layer of complexity involves national reform initiatives and their implementation. This is particularly challenging for EU member states, such as Latvia, that need to comply with both EU reforms and their domestic agendas. ODR is part of the challenges the justice sector encounters to keep pace with a changing world and continue delivering on the needs of access to justice from people and businesses. Some of these challenges are explored in other sections of this report, including ethical issues on the use of digital and emerging technologies (see Pillar 3: Ethics and safeguards) and the need for upgrading skills and capacities within the justice sector and for the population in general (see Actors in context, Vulnerable groups, and ODR and justice institutions).

There is scope to examine financing and governance in Latvia to leverage the implementation of ODR in Latvia. Government funds remain limited for the digitalisation of the justice sector. This has led to a fragmentation of efforts between justice sector players. Innovation in ODR would benefit from a central leadership mechanism/body responsible for the strategic oversight and implementation of digitalisation projects and governing regulations.

To help Latvia navigate the fast pace of technological advancements in the justice sector, the OECD ODR Framework suggests considering certain approaches in adopting digital technologies in the justice sector. An essential approach to managing fast-paced changes is using technology-neutral law making. This involves law makers refraining from specifying the use of a particular technology and instead deferring certain technical decisions to a later stage, for instance, on procurement or implementation of technological solutions. Adopting a technology-neutral approach is critical to have laws that abstract from concrete technologies. This makes it possible for laws to remain adaptable to various technologies over time while also contributing to legal predictability. This approach enables the adoption of new types of digital technologies without requiring legal reforms each time a new technology emerges. Consequently, from a legal standpoint, new technological advancements can be promptly integrated without requiring extensive legal modifications.

Generally, interviews revealed that Latvia employs a technology-neutral approach in its legislative process. Positive outcomes of this approach are reflected in findings from interviews with the Latvian Ministry of Justice and Court Administration, in charge of leading the digital transformation of the justice sector. For example, civil servants from the Latvian Court Administration involved in digital transformation projects expressed no concerns regarding legal barriers to implementing these projects. Adopting such a technology-neutral approach results from a learning process arising from the hectic rhythm of legal reforms in the past (OECD, 2018[12]).

When integrating AI and automation into justice processes, it will be key for Latvia to consider certain aspects, such as privacy and ethics, fairness and the country’s cultural context. First, it is important to ensure that AI applications align with Latvia's established legal framework, encompassing the Civil Procedure Law, EU and national data protection regulations and international standards, such as the OECD Recommendation on Artificial Intelligence (see Box 2.8 further below). Additionally, Latvia's unique legal culture and traditions would need to be factored into the design of AI systems, ensuring their compatibility with local practices. Safeguarding data privacy in accordance with EU and national laws and guidelines is paramount (see Box 2.8 further below), especially to protect the confidentiality of individuals involved in legal proceedings (see Data governance and its strategic use and Pillar 3: Ethics and safeguards).

In light of Latvia's diverse population, AI systems would need to be designed in ways to mitigate bias. This would help avoid any potential discriminatory outcomes. Ensuring transparency in AI usage would help cultivate public trust and acceptance. This could be enabled by establishing mechanisms for human oversight in AI decisions, contributing to accountability and fairness, and ethical guidelines tailored to Latvia's justice system (see Pillar 3: Ethics and safeguards). Encouraging collaboration among legal experts, AI specialists and stakeholders within and outside the justice sector would help Latvia design AI solutions well suited to their context. Lastly, awareness campaigns highlighting AI's benefits and limitations would foster understanding and public buy-in. By navigating these considerations, Latvia can harness AI's potential to augment its justice processes while upholding principles of equity, transparency and the rule of law.

Favouring open standards in the design and delivery of ODR mechanisms can significantly contribute to effectively managing the rapid pace of technological advances. Having frameworks or guidelines that identify and specify the use of open standards, practices, frameworks, reusable components and data is paramount in mitigating risks of vendor lock-in or proprietary technologies over time. Likewise, timely decommissioning services can help reduce challenges associated with legacy technology. This can be achieved by defining clear conditions under which systems and services will be retired or their contracts terminated.

In implementing ODR-related solutions, it is important to maintain a good engagement with stakeholders. During interviews, some judges expressed that the online court platform was rolled out in a short time, leaving little opportunity for stakeholders to be properly trained and adapt to the new tool. Interviews also revealed a preference to start small and find ways of incorporating ODR into non-actionable matters, or where there are fewer discretionary or controversial elements, focusing on a base level of digitalisation.

Data governance is imperative to enable the use of data as a strategic asset in the public sector. Enabling the right cultural, policy, legal, regulatory, institutional, organisational and technical environment is necessary to control, manage, share, protect and extract value from data (OECD, 2019[21]).

The OECD Framework on Data Governance in the Public Sector (see Figure 2.1) encompasses strategic, tactical and delivery layers formed by:

  • the leadership and vision to ensure strategic direction and purpose for the strategic use of data in the public sector

  • the need for coherent implementation and steering of data policies and initiatives across government as a whole and within individual organisations

  • putting in place or revisiting rules, laws, guidelines and standards associated with data

  • developing the necessary data infrastructure (e.g. cloud-based data-hosting services, application programming interfaces [APIs], data lakes) to support the policy goals identified in the strategic layer

  • having a data architecture that reflects standards, interoperability and semantics throughout data generation, collection, storage and processing.

Data can be used to assess the functioning of ODR pre-court and court services by helping anticipate, plan, deliver, evaluate and monitor justice policies and services. Treating data as a strategic asset can help extract value from data, enabling greater data access, sharing and integration at the organisational level and beyond and increasing overall efficiency and accountability.

An assessment of the reforms to modernise dispute resolution mechanisms in Latvia suggests that the country could consider establishing an overarching data governance to support the strategic use of data in the justice sector, including the data-driven design and delivery of dispute resolution policies and services. This would require introducing a common base registry to help improve the delivery of justice services in Latvia as part of broader reforms on data architecture and infrastructure for the whole public sector.

As illustrated throughout this report (see Chapters 3 and 4, particularly Pathways and the seamless transfer of information and cases, Revamping the simplified procedure, Revamping the warning procedure and Revamping consumer dispute resolution mechanisms), there is an untapped opportunity to strengthen the interoperability of data in the justice sector. In fact, improving interoperability would help Latvia address several issues identified in the mapping and fact-finding exercises at once. Some of these issues refer to data requested several times, lack of integration between databases (e.g. court system and public registers) and frictions in transiting between systems (e.g. ADR and in-court dispute resolution mechanisms).

It would be desirable that Latvia treat data as a strategic asset underpinning the transformation of services regarding e-case program . This encompasses understanding the needs for data and promoting interoperability by ensuring that any data collected is easily integrated and reused by other public sector organisations/services. This would not only enable users to provide data only once, following the “Only Once Principle”, but also decrease the amount of information requested in general, saving precious resources of both users and the public sector in general (OECD, 2022[20]).

Another critical aspect Latvia may wish to consider is engaging a wide range of stakeholders to contribute to the justice data ecosystem. This could be achieved by allowing them to participate in data collection, sharing and reuse. Likewise, Latvia could establish common standards and guidelines for greater consistency, as well as co-ordination and collaboration protocols and processes to facilitate data management, security and sharing.

To date, a more fundamental reorientation of the delivery of court services has not been undertaken in Latvia. Data are currently used mainly for statistical purposes. As such, there is scope to strengthen the collection and use of data to anticipate justice needs, as well as monitor and evaluate the functioning of justice institutions. Instead, data are only used ad hoc to analyse legal needs. In this regard, Latvia could tap the potential of justice data to transform the operational performance of justice institutions, leading to more efficient use of public resources, and develop a culture of continuous improvement (OECD, 2019[21]).

Data was identified in service mapping and fact-finding interviews as a fundamental aspect requiring reform in Latvia. While the ODR initiatives concerning courts in Latvia have initiated some use of data, a comprehensive data strategy that applies to dispute resolution mechanisms is still lacking. To maximise the advantages of ODR in Latvia, there is scope to develop and implement a justice data strategy. An effective strategy for the Latvian justice sector would need to include data governance and data standards and cover the following essential aspects (OECD, 2019[21]):

  • Anticipating and planning: This refers to the role of data in designing policies, planning interventions, anticipating possible changes and forecasting needs (OECD, 2019[21]). Concretely, in the justice sector, this could translate into anticipating the needs of Latvian citizens and businesses for ODR.

  • Delivery: This includes using data to transform the delivery of dispute resolution processes and services to improve effectiveness and user experience (OECD, 2019[21]). An example is the analysis of legal needs data to improve ODR services.

  • Evaluation and monitoring: This covers, for example, evaluating policy approaches and measuring the impact of introducing ODR, auditing decisions, and monitoring the performance of services.

While sound data governance is essential to amplifying the use of data, the increasing availability of and access to data poses new challenges regarding the ethical collection, storage, use and treatment, as well as accountability, fairness and respect for human rights (OECD, 2019[21]). This is particularly important considering how governmental approaches to these issues are central to building trust in the context of increasing awareness of people and businesses about their data (see Pillar 3: Ethics and safeguards). Accordingly, governments are encouraged to establish legal and regulatory frameworks, data principles and guidelines to leverage data use while maintaining, recovering or boosting public trust.

Latvia would greatly benefit from a coherent data ethics approach that addresses the core elements of ethics, privacy and consent, transparency, and security (OECD, 2019[21]). In the context of ODR, this would entail, for example, enabling secure infrastructure, using data for public interest in a fit-for-purpose way, and defining clear boundaries for data collection, access, sharing and use, particularly in the context of big databases and interoperable platforms. Given the fast-paced changes in the technological landscape, a flexible yet robust and comprehensive approach to these challenges would foster trustworthiness, thus ensuring stakeholder buy-in and the uptake of new solutions that are efficient, fair and compliant with the best standards.

Implementing ODR in Latvia presents challenges in responding to technological advances, managing the ongoing transformation of justice services, encouraging digitalisation practices and reflecting societal demands. To master such challenges, an agile approach to designing and delivering ODR is recommended. Such an approach can also help the justice sector better understand users and make dispute resolution services more suitable to their needs. This might have positive outcomes, such as simplifying the process, decreasing justice gaps and increasing the effectiveness of dispute resolution services.

Adopting an agile approach involves scoping a project, understanding user needs, designing dispute resolution functionalities, testing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating (see Figure 2.2).

These steps are not linear, leading to a final and static design (see Figure 2.2). Instead, the process underlying the agile approach is iterative and seeks continuous improvement. Adopting an agile approach involves embracing uncertainty and expecting continuous learning and improvement. Instead of being initiated in government, service design responds to an understanding of people’s needs based on research conducted with them, reflecting views expressed across a wide sample of the population and informed by insights available from societal data collected through administrative or legal and justice needs surveys, for example. This allows for the design of services to be guided and led by users' needs rather than implementing assumed or paternalistic solutions devised by public servants at their desks. At launch, when justice services impact real lives, the agile, research-led approach emphasises the continued understanding of user experience to establish impact and respond to any insights in understanding whether the service is producing its desired outcomes (OECD, 2020[57]).

Fact-finding interviews revealed that the design and delivery of ODR services in Latvia do not systematically follow an agile approach. Stakeholders confirmed that despite the adoption of ICT infrastructure in the past few years, the agile approach is not applied in the design and delivery of dispute-resolution-related processes and services.

Fact-finding interviews revealed that data are not employed to understand whether ODR services address users’ needs, or to forecast, measure performance and evaluate them. This applies, for example, to the design and delivery of legal aid services in Latvia. Currently, legal aid services operate on the basis of case-by-case or anecdotal experience from their users. For example, the legal aid services do not establish whether the same client has called and/or visited the offices of the legal aid service. This may lead to a lag of contacts and differences in the advice provided to a client. Data are not systematically collected and thus used to enhance users’ experiences regarding legal aid services. This may negatively impact access to justice by hindering the identification of justice gaps and how they could be addressed to support those seeking legal assistance.

An underlying issue behind not following an agile approach might be related to lack of justice and users’ data. Latvia could increase efforts in this area and consider collecting data through justice institutions and their interactions with users, legal and justice needs surveys, feedback questionnaires, engagement with communities and evaluation exercises. Notably, the capacity for developing and providing data is distributed across a range of government and non-government actors, such as courts, legal aid agencies, community legal centres, private practitioners and others. To ensure sufficient commonality and interoperability, the Latvian government has an opportunity to take a leadership role, in particular by engaging a wide range of stakeholders as contributors to the justice data ecosystem for collecting, managing and reporting their data; establishing, in co-operation with other data providers, common standards and minimum datasets for greater consistency; and establishing, in co-operation with other data providers, co-ordination and collaboration protocols and processes to facilitate the management, security and sharing of data (OECD, 2021[6]).

Legal aid is a concrete area where Latvia could benefit from an agile approach to service design and delivery. Collecting relevant data and applying an agile approach could help, for example, design a legal aid online platform that provides step-by-step guidance on how to apply for legal aid. Such a platform could replace the current electronic templates and improve both the user experience and data collection by legal aid services. Likewise, user experience could, for example, be improved by guiding users through the completion of forms, as some of them currently struggle with the completion of the templates provided, as reported during fact-finding interviews. In addition, the platform could collect data to help identify users’ patterns and bottlenecks in delivering legal aid services.

Despite the positive impact on improving access to justice, the extensive use of digital technologies and data poses pressing and somehow new ethical challenges. For example, the increasing availability and access to data – personal and non-personal – raise a significant number of questions not only about their ethical collection, treatment, storage and use, but also about responsibility, accountability, fairness and respect to the rule of law and human rights when applying digital, notably emerging, technologies.

An important aspect in the implementation of ODR concerns ethical implications and safeguard mechanisms to protect parties, in particular, vulnerable groups, third-party neutrals, advisers and support staff. Citizen and business concerns about data practices are changing fast, and interest in ethical approaches to data management is growing. High-profile data breaches, the influence of large technology companies (“tech giants”) in the private sector, and the development of regulation have put how data are handled in the public consciousness. Representatives of institutions expressed enthusiasm for new solutions in fact-finding interviews but also expressed concerns about their implementation, for example, related to data protection and security. This is a positive sign of awareness and consideration of these values by Latvian stakeholders.

Trust is one of the core aspects of a data-driven public sector and presupposes existing sound data governance mechanisms (see Data governance and its strategic use). The trust dimension encompasses how a data-driven public sector can respond to challenges brought by the use of data. It comprises adopting an ethical framework to guide decision making and inform behaviour; protecting privacy and clarifying data ownership and permissions; securing transparency on the use of data; and recognising the importance of security infrastructure and measures, without hampering efforts to innovate and deliver cutting-edge people-centred justice services (OECD, 2019[21]).

Among the overarching issues on the ethical and trustworthy use of data in the justice sector, Latvia could consider the following aspects (OECD, 2021[59]):

  • Using data to serve the public interest and deliver public value: The use of data by governments, public sector organisations and public officials should aim to serve the public interest and deliver public value, in line with the OECD Recommendation on Enhancing Access to and Sharing of Data (OECD, 2021[60]). For this purpose, justice institutions and civil servants should always prioritise the public interest and consider the legitimate needs of stakeholders such as individuals, communities and the private sector to maximise the benefits of data access, sharing and use for society as a whole. This would help increase the government’s legitimacy in the processing and use of data and delivering human-centred policies and services.

  • Managing data with integrity: Justice civil servants should always ensure trustworthy data management across the different stages of the data value cycle, including, but not limited to, data generation, collection, selection, curation, storage, disposal, access, sharing and use. This includes acting according to the public interest, their functions and applicable hard and soft regulatory rules.

  • Ensuring data are fit for purpose: Justice civil servants should consider the purpose of data to be collected, accessed, shared or used. This implies ensuring clarity between the purpose and legitimate interest that justifies data collection, access, sharing and use. This helps maintain trust and mitigate risks related to the misuse of data.

  • Incorporating data ethics considerations into governance and institutions in the justice sector: This comprises developing and sharing guidelines, frameworks and tools on the use of data following an ethical approach. This may help strengthen accountability, design training and capacity-building materials to promote awareness among justice civil servants. Concretely speaking, this encompasses building in procedures to systematically address the potential misuse of data; peer-to-peer assessments on the use of data in data-driven projects among justice civil servants; regular and random data auditing (including quality, compliance with standards, best practices and rules); and safe havens to report data misuse.

  • Defining boundaries for data collection, access, sharing and use: Latvia could consider following a balanced approach to data collection and use by weighing relevant trade-offs and societal costs and benefits and assessing constraints, risks and rules surrounding data sharing, collection and use. Concretely, boundaries may include adopting norms such as data minimisation and proportionality and considering the use of disaggregated data and encryption tools.

  • Being clear and open about the use of data in justice: Good communication is key to informing and engaging relevant stakeholders in an inclusive process of social dialogue around the ethical use of data in justice. In this regard, the Latvian leadership in the justice sector should be open about how data are being used, for what purpose and by whom. Concretely, this may include raising awareness and publishing data governance and management policies, practices, and procedures, especially around the use of personal data. Likewise, this includes engaging in social dialogue with relevant actors inside and outside the justice public sector (actors whose data are being used, or their representatives, and secondary stakeholders who can be affected or harmed by data use).

  • Allowing data subjects to have control over their data: Upon being informed about how and with whom data are shared, individuals should be given the decision power to exercise autonomy, control and agency over their data and to freely give or withdraw consent to its use. Concretely, a couple of measures Latvia could consider putting in place are offering data subjects or their representatives the possibility and tools to opt in to and opt out of specific data uses; and designing and deploying tools (or building upon existing mechanisms, such as freedom of information requests) to enable individuals to request information from public sector organisations on their data holdings.

The use of emerging technologies, such as AI and distributed ledgers (blockchain), in dispute resolution raises some questions and concerns among justice stakeholders in relation to current justice values and principles. The background of this question is the consideration of whether technological advances transform justice services so fundamentally that new values are needed (OECD, forthcoming[17]). While established human rights, procedural rights and policy recommendations, such as the OECD Recommendation on Access to Justice and People-Centred Justice Systems and the Criteria for People-Centred Design and Delivery of Legal and Justice Services, remain valid, the implementation of ODR requires the application of these values in a new context, and through complementary approaches.

Trust is a key enabler of digital transformation and the uptake of AI. Although the nature of future AI applications and their implications may be hard to foresee, the trustworthiness of AI systems is a key factor for their adoption in the justice sector and buy-in from stakeholders (OECD, 2019[61]). Adopting an ethical approach and safeguards is essential to preserve trust in justice institutions and contributes to stakeholders’ endorsements of the adoption of digital technologies and data in the justice sector.

As the use of AI in the justice system becomes more prevalent and no longer uncommon to generate automated decisions, the Latvian leadership and policy makers should commit to a set of values when designing and delivering policies and services, in line with the OECD Recommendation on Artificial Intelligence. These values comprise the respect of the rule of law, human rights and democracy. Some concrete expressions of these values are freedom, dignity and autonomy, privacy and data protection, non-discrimination, equality and fairness in the results produced by AI systems (OECD, 2019[61]).

To adhere to principles of trustworthy AI, Latvia may wish to consider implementing appropriate mechanisms and safeguards throughout the whole AI system lifecycle. These mechanisms include transparency and explainability of AI systems, including providing meaningful information that offers a general understanding of AI systems deployed; promoting awareness when stakeholders interact and/or are affected by an AI system; and enabling those adversely affected by an AI system to challenge its outcomes based on plain and easy-to-understand information on the factors and the logic that served as the basis for the prediction, recommendation or decision (OECD, 2019[61]).

Stakeholders interviewed in Latvia showed great interest and a good understanding of relevant values, notably in the context of ODR. At the same time, they were aware of potential risks involving data processing, privacy and security. Some uncertainty and concerns, however, were raised regarding the application of AI to certain types of dispute resolution proceedings. It is therefore recommended to continue discussing the values of dispute resolution and how they are impacted by the application of digital technologies and data, and notably the use of AI in ODR systems.

In implementing AI systems, Latvia should also consider robust, secure and safe infrastructure throughout their entire lifecycle so that, in conditions of normal use, they do not pose unreasonable safety risks. Likewise, a systematic risk management approach to each phase of the AI system lifecycle should be applied continuously to address risks related to AI systems, including privacy, digital security, safety and bias. AI actors should be accountable for the proper functioning of AI systems and for the respect of the above-mentioned principles (OECD, 2019[61]).

When introducing AI systems to justice, Latvia may wish to consider existing binding legal acts and guidance, in addition to the OECD Recommendation on Artificial Intelligence and the European Ethical Charter on the Use of Artificial Intelligence in Judicial Systems and their environment (see Box 2.8). This includes the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the forthcoming EU Artificial Intelligence Act that, if adopted, might have the force of a regulation. The draft already hints at how the European Union plans to set the standard for AI systems, regulate and, in some cases, restrict their use (see Box 2.8).

Existing rules of the GDPR and national data protection laws (i.e. the Personal Data Processing Law) apply in all cases when a court issues an automated decision. The GDPR explicitly provides that individuals must be properly informed of the fact that decisions are taken automatically and the logic behind it, also reflecting the principles set out in the OECD Recommendation on Artificial Intelligence. In addition, the GDPR gives individuals the right to object to decisions made solely by automated means. Recital 71 explicitly states that such processing should be "subject to appropriate safeguards, which should include specific information for the data subject and the right to obtain human intervention, to express his or her point of view, to obtain an explanation of the decision made following such evaluation and to challenge the decision.”

To ensure jurisdictional independence, courts do not submit to the supervisory authority (in Latvia, the State Data Inspectorate) if personal data are processed in the exercise of the court’s jurisdictional function, according to the GDPR. However, courts must still follow the rules in the GDPR and other applicable privacy laws in Latvia.


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← 1. In this context, vulnerable groups are understood as people in vulnerable situations (e.g. women victims of domestic violence, children, indigenous groups, refugees, people with low incomes, children, elderly and people with disabilities).

← 2. For the purposes of this report, micro businesses are those that have 0-9 employees.

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