As social media has permeated nearly every aspect of our lives, it has led to questions regarding how, if at all, it can be used in court proceedings. Much of the debate has revolved around the use of social media posts as evidence. However, changes in court proceedings brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic led to initiatives that use technology to mitigate the effects of court closures. While the majority of these initiatives involve shifting courts to an online format in order to continue holding trials, changes have been made to pre-trial procedures as well.
According to the American Bar Association (ABA), pre-trial disputes are efforts to reach “a negotiated settlement of differences” in order to avoid taking the case to an expensive and lengthy trial. Traditionally, these disputes are resolved in-person, and require formal written documents to be legitimate. Yet cases of online dispute resolution are rising, often involving text messages, social media platforms, and emails. In an unofficial survey of mediation in the Covid-19 era, the Academy of International Dispute Resolution and Professional Negotiation (AIDRN) found that the countries in the study began using platforms such as Zoom, Whatsapp, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, and Wechat to conduct pre-trial negotiations. These methods were found to be more efficient, lower cost, and conducive to a more positive atmosphere.
Although most countries who participated in the study enacted these changes to adapt to Covid-19, one has already taken steps to make the procedure permanent. Recently, the plenum of the Supreme Court of Russia issued a ruling that officially allows parties to settle disputes out of court through social media or instant messaging. Russia has specific laws that require plaintiffs to attempt to negotiate with the defendant before he/she can go to trial, a procedure that necessitates sending a hard copy of the claim by mail. The new law will streamline this process by allowing parties to utilize mobile technologies and more easily observe the pre-trial procedures. Following the pandemic and the new, permanent change in Russian law, it is likely that we will begin to see more legal systems implement laws that allow for the use of social media, text messages, and emails in resolving pre-trial disputes.
Signed by Kristin Adams, Millennium Partners intern