With a surge in disputes across different professions and areas of society due to the Covid-19 crisis, UK courts are overrun with cases. Mediation can be an effective tool to resolve cases more quickly and cost-effectively than litigation. It also preserves relationships due to its reconciliatory nature. The author of this article makes a case for Presumptive Virtual Mediation and comes to the conclusion that “Litigation by default is incapable of providing cheap, timely and accessible justice to the majority of private individuals and businesses.” “Virtual mediation comes ‘just in time’, rather than ‘just in case’ we need it.”
Dealing with the disruption to normal court operation caused by the COVID-19 outbreak is a real-time test of the U.K. justice system’s adaptability and innovation. Both the judiciary and legal profession have traditionally been decried for a lack of imagination and a rigid commitment to outdated methods of operation.
This time of urgent need is also an opportunity to combat notions that the legal justice system is behind the times by taking quantum steps toward alternative dispute resolution delivered through virtual technology. There are two ways in which this could be achieved.
Firstly, claims emerging directly from the COVID-19-related disruption could automatically be referred to a presumptive mediation program where mediation is the default option. This will alleviate the burden on an already overstretched court system and may be expected to lead to a greater number of settlements.
Secondly, given that social distancing measures seem to be here to stay at least for the foreseeable future, the platform should provide for mediation through virtual communication technology.
Adopting this approach, the current crisis may be seen as a catalyst to drive fundamental shifts in cultural and societal outlooks on dispute resolution and normalize ADR methods such as mediation. ADR-friendly systems created as a result of the crisis can act to improve access to justice well beyond the pandemic’s lifetime.
The inevitable onslaught of coronavirus-related disputes can be used to test the benefits and limitations of more flexible models of mediation that obviate the need for face-to-face meetings and that have long been the subject of debate and proposal. It is a truism that a crisis can force a shift in behavior in ways previously thought unimaginable.