COVID-19: Remote Mediation - Business as usual in the face of COVID-19
The rapid spread of COVID-19 has had extraordinarily far reaching ramifications for all sectors of industry, not least the legal system.
With hearings being adjourned and court offices closed, litigators are trying to find ways in which to protect the best interests of their clients in the face of protracted delays and uncertainty.
COVID-19 has also caused significant supply chain difficulties, triggered employment issues and raised liquidity concerns for commercial businesses, meaning that there are potentially thousands of future litigation claims waiting to come to the fore.
The current climate has therefore highlighted the value and immediate availability of remote mediation platforms to resolve existing and emerging disputes.
There are a number of online platforms available which replicate the setup of a standard 'face to face' mediation. These platforms can facilitate a series of virtual rooms to enable "open sessions" where both parties meet with the mediator, as well as separate meetings between one party and the mediator that would ordinarily be conducted in private rooms.
As with standard mediations, the mediator remains in control of the discussions. At the outset the mediator will explain the process as usual and ensures that all Parties are comfortable with the virtual mediation process.
After the preliminary introductions, the mediator will assign each party in to its own virtual room. The mediator can then speak to each party separately or together. The platforms are set up to ensure that the mediator is in control of the rooms and he virtually switches between each room to relay information and to encourage negotiations. When the mediator is not with a party, the solicitor and clients can speak privately together.
If clients are attending from different locations, they will have their own screen but will be placed in the same virtual room.
Documents can be securely uploaded and shared and settlement agreements can be signed and exchanged, mirroring the procedure of a face to face mediation.
The mediator is available to each Party throughout the mediation and where parties are meeting in an open session, each party has the ability to send the mediator private messages which he can relay there and then.
While the current crisis is forcing the immediate adoption of these remote proceedings, the potential cost savings and expedited schedules mean these dispute resolution tools will likely continue and may be a preferred mechanism in future.
If you have any queries regarding this article, please contact Barbara Creed, Partner, Litigation and Dispute Resolution Belfast, Nuala Darragh, Solicitor, Litigation and Dispute Resolution Belfast or Ciaran Joyce, Knowledge Lawyer, Litigation and Dispute Resolution Dublin.
Date published: 3 April 2020