Six dispute resolution specialists have joined forces to launch what they claim to be the first fully online service of its kind in Scotland.

A all-female panel of mediators and arbitrators have teamed up with Edinburgh-based dispute resolution firm Squaring Circles with the aim of providing a quicker and more cost effective alternative to court for business and commercial disputes.

They say that demand has grown during the COVID-19 lockdown for technology-led alternatives to face-to-face dispute resolution and court processes.

Rachael Bicknell, who last year left practice as a solicitor to found Squaring Circles, is joined on the panel by Angela Grahame QC, former Vice Dean of the Faculty of Advocates; Susanne Tanner QC, director of Ampersand Advocates; Gillian Carmichael Lemaire, member of the Paris Bar; Sheila Webster, partner at Davidson Chalmers Stewart, solicitors; and Pamela Lyall, Scotland’s Mediator of the Year 2014.

Ms Bicknell, who wrote about the emergence of online dispute resolution in this month’s Journal, said she started to develop the idea of providing online civil and commercial dispute resolution services last autumn.

“For many business disputes the involvement of lawyers, often leading to the adoption of court processes, means that costs can quickly approach or exceed the value of the claim”, she explained. “Legal costs for commercial disputes will often run to six or even seven figures and frequently result in parties spending as much time arguing about the costs as they do over the claim.

“As the pandemic took hold, it became even clearer that ODR would need to be at the core of the future of dispute resolution. As we enter what is predicted to be the biggest recession in hundreds of years, litigation is going to be a non-starter for an even greater proportion of companies and individuals who do business in Scotland.

Operative from this week, the service offers a Business ODR fixed fee scheme, where parties do not need to instruct a lawyer, and a Commercial ODR scheme. A personal injury and clinical negligence scheme will launch in the coming weeks and there are plans to handle low value disputes.

Once social distancing restrictions are lifted, ODR will be used in combination with face-to-face dispute resolution processes.