Wales could become the UK’s main hub for ADR by establishing a national dispute resolution centre that would raise funds through offering commercial arbitration, according to a feasibility study.
The scoping study by Skills for Justice, part of the employer-led charity JSSC Group, which seeks to build workplace skills, recommended the centre include the gamut of dispute resolution, including arbitration and conciliation, for disputes of all sizes.
The second phase of a project that previously identified an appetite for a mediation centre in Wales, the study proposed it should have its ‘hub’ at a prestigious location in Cardiff, with ‘spokes’ in Swansea and Wrexham covering the rest of the country.
Central to financing the centre would be a plan to raise funds from high-value commercial dispute resolution “that will allow for funding of community dispute resolution”.
The study revealed its revenue-raising ambitions for the centre went beyond the UK: “Offering commercial dispute resolution services as an additional income stream for the centre would allow for exploration of domestic, European and international dispute resolution markets.”
Hopes for its significance within the UK were also ambitious. It would become “the flagship for dispute resolution within the UK, as the first of its kind to represent all forms of dispute resolution, across all sectors under one roof”.
It continued: “As many of the umbrella bodies are UK wide, this would be the first centre of genuine engagement across the umbrella organisations, and it follows, therefore there will be no need to replicate this elsewhere. The Welsh dispute resolution centre would serve the UK – attracting business and creating jobs.”
Before reaching any conclusions, the study weighed up three options for ADR in Wales: a continuation of the current situation, with no formal dispute resolution centre; establishing a limited centre as a starting point, based on ‘virtual’ satellite locations; and an ‘aspirational’ model involving a large-scale ADR centre “including a new build within a prestigious location”.
The study acknowledged the value of existing ADR umbrella organisations such as the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR), and “maintaining links with the ‘London centric’ nature of disputes and Court of Appeal”.
It also recognised there was an argument for waiting for other developments to run their course: “It is a time of change within the legal sector, and there is case law and European directives influencing litigation practice and the use of dispute resolution, resulting in one school of thought to ‘sit tight’ and see how things evolve.”
But it concluded that there were “financial, economic and social benefits” from establishing a dispute resolution centre, “including a change of culture for dispute resolution generally”.
It added: “A centre will provide a central point of contact… for all disputes across all sectors. It will be a gateway to information, knowledge, choice and support for clients and professionals alike. It will alleviate confusion and put all forms of managing a dispute (including litigation) on a level playing field offering real and open choice for all.”
According to the scoping study, set up costs for an ADR centre, including staff and IT costs, would be in the region of £160,000, with year-on-year costs of a further £143,000. Projections of its income suggested it would not be until year seven that it would break even and become self-funding.