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
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
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
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.