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RDO's blog interview with
Caroline Sheppard, OBE

RDO was delighted to interview Caroline Sheppard, OBE. Immediate past Chief Adjudicator of the Traffic Penalty Tribunal (UK) about the digital transformation of TPT and what the future of ODR holds.

What are the key components of an online dispute resolution platform?
User centric design, multichannel access by all parties, intuitive processes, content in clear, everyday language with explanations where needed, swift communication and notifications, data capture, reporting, workflow enabling a swift process, and more…

What were your biggest challenges in developing the Traffic Penalty Tribunal?
It was critical at the outset to engage with the respondent local authorities. They were sceptical that by making lodging an appeal so easy every motorist would appeal. They were astonished when the system was delivered on time and under budget – and, it did not result in more appeals. In fact, their own savings were significant so they could move staff to the first stage of the process thereby improving their own decision making.

What would the next generation Traffic Penalty Tribunal look like?
It is not for me to say now I have moved on. There is a constant need to review the data to ensure continuous improvement. I would have gone full circle and started looking at the appellant user experience in the light of technical innovation since the system was developed. And the adjudicators’ decisions now need to be made available online.

Having been an Online Tribunal long before COVID-19, did the pandemic further change the attitude of parties towards technology in adjudication at all?
Every aspect of the pandemic was unexpected. TPT, having been designed for remote working, should have resulted in business as usual, but many council officers could not access their systems remotely when working from home – lessons for them. That said, they were wonderful at adapting their policies recognising the changed circumstances of the public.

The appellants became trained in using video – before, the TPT admin needed to talk them through a video hearing, but after the pandemic few hesitate to self-connect to a ‘meeting- hearing’.

What suggestions would you make to RDO as it develops its next generation technology?
Look at the all users in the 360-degree, criss-cross process and view the dispute as a relay. The parties will have engaged in the first lap, and there will be a further lap after the dispute resolution stage where the parties further engage. Do not just focus on the dispute resolution middle lap – we should all be looking at the starting pistol that created the dispute to the finishing line.

Talking about AI, do you believe that human-arbitrators will be replaced by automated judges?
No – but AI will be invaluable in funnelling cases and assisting claimants to assess their options. It will make judges time more focused and much more efficient – and the judge will identify and feedback anomalies in the AI. There may be small value repetitive disputes which can be resolved with AI – but the outcomes will need to be consistently reviewed by a human! And there will always be the need for feedback from the parties to check where the AI may have gone awry.

How did you measure the success of your Tribunal?
It depends what you mean by success. A tribunal should be a responsive and communicative dispute resolver with as much focus on the parties getting it right first time next time so the tribunal is not needed. A successful tribunal should be seeing a reduced case load. The data and reporting inherent to digital reform will assist that objective. At TPT the workload increases because more jurisdictions are being added to the work of the adjudicators. The case turnaround statistics are impressive compared with traditional tribunals. The adjudicators can work in their own time and appreciate the flexibility of online working. This attracts lawyers to a starter judicial appointment when they might not have time to work in a more traditional tribunal.

An unexpected and unplanned success was the positive effect that a swift and transparent online system has on the behaviour and approach of the parties. Openness, the ability to ‘have the ear of the adjudicator’ even without a hearing, and a swift outcome fosters a more objective approach by both parties.