Executive summary

Latvia has made comprehensive efforts to modernise its justice system and fulfil its commitment to improving access to justice along the lines of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.3. Access to justice for all is instrumental for democracy, promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth and improving people’s overall well-being.

Online dispute resolution (ODR) is central to modernise justice systems improving access to justice in an efficient and cost-effective way and addressing the legal needs of people, businesses and communities. Drawing on a series of strategic documents and a strong impetus for change, Latvia is in a position to develop a holistic ODR strategy for implementing and providing seamless ODR services that include the full range of dispute resolution mechanisms, from conciliation, mediation, ombud proceedings and arbitration to court litigation.

A set of strategic documents reflecting Latvia’s commitments lays the groundwork for success. Innovation is one of the priorities of the Latvian Sustainable Development Strategy until 2030 (“Latvia2030”), which presents the country’s long-term development vision. The National Development Plan for 2021-2027 sets Latvia’s commitments to achieve the 2030 SDGs and prioritises the culture of dispute resolution through alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods, the attainment of accessible and efficient judicial and law enforcement systems and the use of digital technologies and data. Additionally, the Latvian Justice Strategy for 2022-2026 sets the priorities of a fair judicial system, a safe business environment and the digital transformation of justice services, which the Digital Transformation Guidelines for 2021-2027 also supports. Reflecting all these high-level commitments, Latvia has started using digital technologies and data for random distribution of court cases, authentication mechanisms, electronic signature and a court information system (TIS), the e-case platform “e-lietas platforma” and the one-stop shop “Latvija.lv”. This all points to a clear awareness of digital transformation to improve access to justice in the country.

While much has been accomplished so far, there is scope to address several challenges to unlock the full potential of ODR in Latvia. ADR still lacks credibility as an effective and trustworthy means of settling disputes, due partly to concerns with impartiality and conflicts of interest, low levels of enforceability and predictability of its outcomes. Low levels of awareness and skills have been identified as other important issues, including the need to improve digital user skills among justice civil servants, render ADR more attractive to different profiles and promote legal awareness among citizens of dispute resolution options beyond the courts. The mapping and application of the forthcoming OECD Online Dispute Resolution Framework (“OECD ODR Framework”) to specific types of claims – simplified and warning procedures and consumer claims – also highlights areas for improvement, including legal reforms to monetary caps, procedural deadlines and opportunities for automation.

Latvia’s future strategies and implementation paths could be supported by a clear and comprehensive approach to ODR and broader modernisation efforts of its justice sector. As part of Latvia’s continuous improvements, there is an untapped opportunity to expand digital transformation efforts to improve dispute resolution within and beyond courts. From a digital governance perspective, there is a need to shift away from “digital by default” by adopting an approach that embeds digital technologies and data in the design and delivery of justice policies and services. Designating a leadership body for digital transformation would be an important step to secure strategic oversight and facilitate the co-ordination and implementation of digital transformation projects, including ODR.

Investing in robust digital and data governance, including data architecture and infrastructure, is key to implementing digital tools in the Latvian justice system that are key for the success of ODR, such as e-signature and interoperable systems. This can also help enable automation, with potential applications in streamlining technical, procedural and time-bound steps during the enforcement phase, provided no objections are raised by any involved parties. Furthermore, automating the assessment, conception and provision of comprehensive legal aid services is also worth considering. Embracing technology-neutral lawmaking, advocating open standards, and decommissioning outdated services can help mitigate technology legacy risks. In the pursuit of modernising the justice sector, measures must be taken to build ethical and transparent guidelines for the use of digital technologies and data.

This report highlights some of the areas where further efforts could underpin the successful implementation of ODR for greater access to justice. In this regard, Latvia could consider making further efforts to make the justice system more people-centred, including by adopting a universal gateway, guiding individuals with legal issues to the appropriate services and channels. Engaging stakeholders from the outset and throughout the design and deliver of ODR solutions are other important aspects of a people-centred justice system and the successful implementation of ODR. Conducting regular legal needs surveys and periodic assessments of justice services can provide valuable insights into the needs of the population and the effectiveness of existing policies and initiatives. Promoting training to justice civil servants and empowering people by enhancing legal literacy and awareness, including on ADR, can also improve the uptake of ODR in Latvia.

To expand the use of ODR, including ADR, Latvia should continue to reinforce public trust in ombud schemes. Particular attention is needed to ensure the impartiality of the process and its outcomes. Latvia could also consider legal reforms, including promoting legal certainty and enforceability of arbitration and mediation agreements; addressing issues related to attorney fees; and reviewing monetary caps and procedural timelines for simplified and warning procedures and consumer claims. Particularly for the latter, Latvia could also consider allowing ombuds to decide the case in its entirety and not limit their competency to consumer protection law, introducing a single-entry point for all consumer-trader disputes to help centralise and distribute incoming complaints to competent bodies, and linking ombuds’ platforms to court systems.

These recommendations collectively pave the way for successfully implementing ODR in Latvia.

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