As the pandemic dictates how we run our day to day business and the UK continues to adhere to the social distancing rules, the use of technology-based solutions to resolve disputes are on the rise, one of these being virtual mediation.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a voluntary and confidential alternative method of dispute resolution. It is often a more cost-effective and less time-consuming method compared to court proceedings.
An independent person, known as a mediator, meets the parties and their legal advisors, in turn, to assist with negotiations of a settlement of their dispute. Even if no settlement is reached, the process encourages parties to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s claim and in doing so, issues can be narrowed, and some resolved.
Parties must be willing to take part as it is a voluntary process and can try to resolve the dispute at any point during litigation. It is always strongly encouraged by the courts as a starting point.
The process traditionally takes place in-person and in the same building as the other party. The mediator will move between the parties to discuss settlement. However, due to the outbreak of Coronavirus and social distancing measures, the legal profession and courts have been forced to adapt their normal working arrangements to assist parties to reach a settlement without the need for physical presence by using virtual platforms.
Virtual mediation and its benefits
Many mediators are no strangers to conducting virtual mediations. For example, the small claims track mediation scheme is operated by way of telephone calls. However, mediators are now using different online video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to facilitate dispute resolutions during the Coronavirus pandemic.
The use of these virtual platforms allows a mediator to separate parties into virtual rooms and continue to act as an intermediary between the parties remotely. Parties can hold joint sessions with the mediator and the other party as well as private ones with their legal advisors.
There are significant benefits in taking part in virtual mediations. Those include:
- The process saves substantial costs – although virtual mediation costs remain the same as in-person mediation, the cost is substantially less compared to court proceedings. The costs of mediation are typically proportionate to the dispute and often shared between the parties.
- There are no travel expenses or travel time – the inherent problems faced with travel are removed as parties can take part from any location.
- Less time is incurred– virtual mediation can be arranged more quickly and a settlement can be reached early compared to court proceedings as it avoids delays in having disputes determined in court, particularly with the disruption faced during these times.
- Virtual mediation maintains confidentiality – as previously explained, parties can hold separate sessions to conduct virtual meetings in private.
However, there are unique considerations for parties using virtual mediation such as determining which platform and means of communication to be used by parties, familiarity with the chosen platform and contact details for each participant. Preparation is therefore extremely important to overcome these considerations and it is recommended to engage a mediator at an early stage.
We believe that virtual mediation offers a practical and effective alternative to in-person mediation and should still be attempted where appropriate to do so during the Coronavirus pandemic.