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Cover Stories Series 2013> Web Trap> Archive
UPDATED: December 31, 2012 NO. 1 JANUARY 3, 2013
Justice Through Internet
Judges resolve disputes via online mediation
By Wang Hairong

Chen's online workshop has logged 450,000 hits and she has offered legal advice on 732 cases through audio, video or text communication.

Recently, Chen helped a mother in Chongqing in southwest China resolve her dispute with a local hospital over a skin disease her son contracted after receiving an injection. After reaching a deal with hospital officials, the mother, who has never met the judge in person, said that Chen's efforts had boosted her trust in the legal system.

Now, online mediation is used to settle disputes in many places across China.

Zhang Youde, Dean of the Social Science Department of Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said that China is in a transitional period, and as disputes in a number of areas are rising notably, so are legal cases filed with courts. He said that judges can defuse conflicts and assuage public anxiety by offering online consulting and mediating services.

QQ courts

Recently, the Shouxian County People's Court in Lu'an City, east China's Anhui Province, successfully mediated a case involving compensation for workplace injury.

Plaintiff Yang, a construction worker from Anhui's Bozhou City, was injured when blown off a roof on July 25, 2011, while building a factory workshop in Shouxian. He was hired by an engineering company. After consulting a local lawyer, Yang sued the company and Zhou, the project's on-site supervisor, for an indemnity of 150,000 yuan ($24,073) at the Shouxian County People's Court.

The judge handling the case found that the seat of the engineering company is more than 1,000 km away from Shouxian, and Yang and Zhou also resided in different cities. To save both parties the trouble of traveling back and forth to court, the judge suggested online mediation, and the three agreed.

The three parties and the judge simultaneously logged in to the QQ instant messaging system to present documents, arguments and evidence.

After discussion with the judge and the plaintiff, the defendants agreed to jointly compensate Yang 120,000 yuan ($19,259). Later, Yang, Zhou and a representative of the engineering company went to the court together, signing the mediation agreement and handing over the compensation.

Inspired by stories of online dispute mediation in other courts, Judge Ouyang Xin at the People's Court of Quyuan Administrative District in Yueyang City, central China's Hunan Province, also mediated a divorce case via QQ.

In February 2012, a woman surnamed Yi sued her husband Huang for divorce at the People's Court of Quyuan Administrative District. Yi and Huang met while working in south China's Guangdong Province. They registered for marriage in Quyuan Administrative District in 2003. But in 2008, Huang returned to his hometown in central China's Henan Province. After being separated for four years, Yi filed for divorce at the People's Court of Quyuan Administrative District.

After hearing the case, the court subpoenaed Huang, who insisted he was too busy to appear in court. Trial by default was an option, but Huang would lose an opportunity to defend his legitimate rights. Ouyang decided to resort to online mediation.

Via videoconference, Yi and Huang agreed that Huang should take custody of their daughter, Yi should pay 800 yuan ($128) in monthly support until the kid turns 18, and the two should each pay half of their joint debts.

Speaking from his experience in mediating the divorce case, Ouyang said that a key step in online mediation is confirmation of the involved parties' identities. To ascertain Huang's identity, the judge asked Yi's long-time neighbors to confirm that the man appearing in the video was Huang, and Yi was also asked to verify Huang's signature on the agreement.

Ouyang said that currently online mediation has been successfully used for simple cases. However, he told Hunan-based news portal Voc.com, "For complicated cases that involve many pieces of evidence, the involved parties have to appear in court personally."

Email us at: wanghairong@bjreview.com

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