There has been some reporting in the UK of a recent decision of the Court of Justice in Luxembourg on the legality of mandatory out-of-court settlement procedures for electronic communications disputes in the Joined Cases C-317/08, C-319/08 and C-320/08 Rosalba Alassini & Others. The Court was asked to decide if a mandatory system made under national legislation (in Italy) implementing Art.34 of the Universal Services Directive 2002/22/EC was not precluded by other EU law, including Art.6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to fair hearing). The short answer is that mandatory out-of-court alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is lawful.
Whilst this might change how consumer disputes are handled in other member states, this will not change practice in the UK. We already have a system of compulsory ADR, as communications providers are required by the terms of the general authorisation to which they are all subject and made by Ofcom under the Communications Act 2003 to put in place complaints handling and dispute resolution procedures. These procedures also require communications providers to refer consumer complaints to approved ADR providers. Since 1 September 2009, such disputes can be referred by consumers after only 8 weeks of making a complaint. There are still only 2 approved providers: OTELO and CISAS. Ofcom publish a table to show which scheme each operator in the UK uses.
So for the UK, the Rosalba Alassini judgement is a cases of “Move along. Nothing to see here.”