Fixed-price ADR services launched for Covid 19 disputes

Dixon: Vital to support businesses at this time

Two alternative dispute resolution bodies have joined forces to launch a service to handle commercial disputes caused by Covid 19, as has a leading City law firm.

The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) and the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) have the Pandemic Business Dispute Resolution Service, while City firm Norton Rose Fulbright has created NRF Covid Resolve.

The former allows businesses, with or without a lawyer, to “proceed through a stepped process until their disputes are resolved”.

All services are fixed cost and online. The amount in dispute must between £5,000 and £250,000.

A spokesman said that although the service was designed for two-party disputes, additional parties could be added in consultation with CIArb and CEDR.

“This service was established for disputes that have arisen because business has been interrupted by Covid 19 pandemic. However, any business can make an application.”

Catherine Dixon, director general of CIArb, said: “Ensuring everyone has access to redress is as the heart of what we do.

“The pandemic and its associated economic disruption have made it ever more important that we use our expertise to support businesses through this difficult time.”

NRF Covid Resolve uses an online platform and aims to reach an outcome within four to six weeks.

A spokesman said: “Covid 19 has made it difficult for many companies to perform some of their contractual obligations, giving rise to a high number of corporate disputes, particularly relating to the application of force majeure and change in law provisions.

“Commercial contracts usually prescribe formal, lengthy and costly modes of dispute resolution. In the current crisis, the overriding need in many cases is to ‘get back to business’ quickly in a way which is still fair to all parties.”

Parties can opt for a mediation process only, a mediation process followed by documents-only arbitration, or arbitration only. The mediators and arbitrators are selected from an agreed panel of specialists available through the platform.

The spokesman said the financial impact of the pandemic, particularly in the energy sector with the oil price crash, had put many in-house legal departments are under pressure on spending.

The platform will be offered first to clients in the energy sector, with plans for the mediator and arbitrator panel to expand so clients in all sectors could benefit.

Anne Lapierre, global head of energy at the law firm, said: “The energy industry faces unprecedented challenges from Covid 19, compounded by the wider transformation of the sector as it undertakes the essential transition away from fossil fuels.

“As such, we feel it our duty to come up with practical solutions to help clients get back to what they do best as quickly as possible.”

Energy disputes partner Neil Q Miller added: “Businesses, governments, judiciary and commentators have all emphasised the need for a different approach to resolve the volume of potential claims arising from Covid 19.

“Many such disputes are not suited to lengthy, procedurally burdensome and costly traditional dispute resolution methods, with businesses being damaged by the impasse created from managing many live disputes with no way of efficiently resolving them.”

NRF Covid Resolve was standardised so it could be used by in-house counsel without the need for external lawyers.

The platform communicates deadlines, stores documents securely, reports progress and captures structured information. Awards and settlements are administered through the platform.

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