Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is an umbrella term for a wide variety of out-of-court mechanisms used to resolve disputes and provide redress. ADR is growing in popularity, as it encompasses valuable and cost-effective alternatives to court proceedings. ADR generally involves one of the following three mechanisms:
ADR via private, co-contracting processes
ADR via private, co-contracting processes, including arbitration, adjudication, mediation and conciliation, are designed principally to resolve disputes between parties in a contractual relationship, but can have wider application. Nonetheless, this category of ADR is not binding on third parties.
ADR via independent Ombudsman Entities
ADR via independent Ombudsman entities (or similar publicly validated intermediaries like “médiateurs”) covers a wide variety of resolution techniques developed to deal with consumer claims, typically involving complaints about a product or service in a particular market sector. This type of ADR has the advantage of being multi-functional: it can be used for resolving unitary or mass claims, which may be contractual or non-contractual, and which may deal with private or public law disputes. Its real added-value lies in combining these complaint handling powers with market surveillance and claims management functions.
These include accumulated market knowledge and intelligence, early detection, monitoring, feedback loops to business, advice to business and consumers, regular market and claims management reviews and reports. This ADR mechanism is frequently deployed through on-line platforms providing improved impact and efficiency and often an excellent consumer interface.
Within this category of ADR, the Consumer Ombudsman model has a wide range of variants within different civil justice systems of Member States. It can be found in regulated sectors, working closely with sectoral regulators, such as a Financial Ombudsman, Energy Ombudsman, Communications Ombudsman etc.
ADR via Regulatory Redress
ADR via Regulatory Redress is a mechanism whereby a public enforcement body (typically the regulator of a market sector) has power to encourage or stimulate voluntary settlement of a mass claim as an alternative to imposing a fine, or other penalty, and/or in lieu of pursuing a court order for injunction or damages. It covers a wide range of consumer, public law and competition law issues. The most advanced regulatory authorities approach enforcement by identifying the root cause of the problem and agreeing actions to reduce the risk of reoccurrence of the problem. This mechanism seeks to ensure that such actions are implemented by the infringer and others and that redress/rectification is made by imposing a proportionate supervisory sanction.
ADR has proved to be the most effective and efficient pathway to deliver redress for unitary and mass claims. It is usually much less expensive much more simple and efficient than court proceedings.
Empirical research on an extensive database of case studies in EU Member States has clearly demonstrated the superiority in delivering collective redress via Regulatory Redress and Consumer Ombudsmen, by far surpassing any court-based mechanisms.
In addition, digitalization allows more and more use to be made of big data and machine learning, thereby developing modern techniques which offer further improvements on satisfactory and speedy outcomes for consumers and traders.
The table below provides a comparative overview of the different mechanisms against various criteria:
At EU level, various legislations have framed the application of those mechanisms:
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Directive
The ADR Directive (2013/11/EU) on consumer disputes came into force in May 2013 and provides alternative ways of resolving unitary contractual disputes between consumers and businesses across the EU. The directive also aims to simplify and standardize the current process of dispute resolution for consumers.
It increases the quality and professionalism of ADR entities by requiring them to maintain up-to-date websites, providing consumers with easy access to information on their procedures and enable them to submit complaints online.
Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Regulation
The ADR Directive had been taken in conjunction with the complementary European Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Regulation (524/2013), implemented by Member States since January 2016. The ODR platform offers consumers and traders a single point of entry for the out-of-court resolution of online disputes. The ODR platform only uses dispute resolution bodies approved by their national governments meeting quality standards relating to fairness, transparency, effectiveness and accessibility.
The ODR platform is easy to use and takes users through the dispute resolution process in a step-by-step fashion. It provides translations in all EU languages and has inbuilt time limits for resolving complaints.
Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) Regulation
In the context of ADR via Regulatory Redress, the Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation (EC No 2006/2004 or CPC Regulation) is highly relevant. This regulation establishes a cooperation framework allowing national authorities in the European Economic Area to jointly address breaches of consumer rules in case trader and the consumer are established in different countries.
This collective enforcement network is referred to as the "CPC Network". The European Commission supervises the cooperation between these authorities to ensure that consumer rights legislation is applied and enforced in a consistent manner across the Single Market.
Where do we stand
The European Commission concluded in its 2019 EU Justice Scoreboard that more Member States are promoting the voluntary use of alternative dispute resolution methods for private disputes compared to previous years.
The graph below illustrates this trend and Member States’ efforts in promoting the use of ADR through incentives which may vary depending on the area of law 
Promotion of and incentives for using ADR methods
In its 2017 report evaluating the functioning of the European Online Dispute Resolution platform, the European Commission concluded that its first year of operation was very positive, with an impressive reach among consumers. The graph below shows the evolution of the number of complaints submitted on the ODR platform in 2016-2017.
Complaints submitted per month
In addition, the ongoing institutional discussions around the Directive on Representative Actions represents an opportunity to introduce modern redress techniques. EJF welcomes the European Parliament’s position adopted in plenary on 26 March 2019 and which includes a provision stressing the possibility to establish national registries of collective redress actions that should be linked to the European Commission’s database for all communications between the CPC authorities.
The concept of Ethical Business Practice & Regulation (EBP&R) is a new paradigm drawing on findings from behavioural science, responsive regulation, safety in business and integrity management, to create a practical and holistic approach.
Europe is at a cross-roads for product liability rules. Following the proposal on a New Product Liability Directive, EJF and other European organizations urge policymakers, in a joint statement, to consider key issues such as protection against malicious mass-claims and new rules on burden of proof, to ensure a balanced and effective product liability regime that benefits both businesses and consumers. The proposed revision of the PLD, as it stands, would introduce radical changes in the EU legal landscape and it may indeed have unintended consequences for Europe's competitiveness and national justice systems. PLD could signal another move towards a litigation culture in the EU that serves primarily the economic interests of private third-party funders as well as placing an extra burden on already-stretched national court systems and state resources. Let's work together to protect European competitiveness and consumer rights via fair, effective and efficient civil rights systems in the EU.
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