Measures by the EU to improve access to justice for citizens in the European single market due to come into force in 2015 will have significant consequences for the administration of civil justice and the resolution of disputes between consumers and business.
This policy brief presents the findings of a conference in April 2014 at which ombudsmen, representatives of business and consumer groups, and academics met to consider how the legislation will affect ombudsman and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) schemes, how to evaluate the effectiveness of such schemes, and how best to adapt to the evolving policy environment and more demanding consumer expectations.
Key findings include:
- There is a lack of clarity in informal processes used by ombudsman and ADR schemes and a need to develop a more coherent way of explaining ombudsman and ADR models to the public.
- Public trust in ombudsman and ADR schemes must be maintained by the continued provision of services according to the principles of independence, honesty, and competence. However, the reputation of resolution schemes will be subject to increasing pressures as higher case loads, more demanding consumers, and technological change lead to greater scrutiny by consumers and the public at large.
- Ombudsman and ADR schemes should develop processes that account for the emotional responses of consumers as well as producing technically correct decisions, and continue to track and respond to changes in consumer demand.
- More sophisticated and commonly shared frameworks for evaluating ombudsman and ADR schemes are required in order to provide public assurance of their effectiveness, as well as to defend them from unfair criticism and provide greater opportunities for shared learning and improvement across the sector.