The UK's first joint arbitration and mediation company has been launched amid protests from rivals that the market faces saturation.
The Centre for Business Arbitration, based in Lincoln's Inn and using the services of 51 barristers, opened its doors last week for arbitration and mediation across a range of professions.
Company director Reziya Harrison, a barrister at 11 Old Square, says the company hopes to take advantage of "the demand for arbitration and mediation that the new Woolf reforms have created".
"You need to be able to flow on to arbitration if it is more appropriate than mediation or if mediation fails. The resolution of disputes is what we are aiming at so it makes sense to have it all under one roof," claims Harrison.
But Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) group director Bryan Beckett says his board rejected a similar path last year and is "quite opposed" to what he brands an American-style "Med-Arb".
Beckett warns: "If parties know the mediator will put on a new hat and become an arbitrator if they don't settle, one party may withhold information if they don't think they will get what they want."
Meanwhile, indications of growing demand for mediation were backed up by statistics last week that show the Centre for Dispute Resolution (CEDR) and the ADR are doing one mediation every working day.
CEDR's mediations grew from 192 to 257 between April 1998 and March 1999, a rise of 33 per cent, and included - for the first time - six mediations in personal injury cases.
The ADR handled 149 mediations during 1998 and says it has done 41 more this year, with 15 more booked for May. "We expect to be doing one and a half a day by the end of summer," Beckett adds.
CEDR chief executive Karl Mackie says while the totals may not seem high, they are only a proportion of a growing market. "The indication through our figures is that there is a significant increase in mediation uptake. Goodness knows what it's going to do in the next year," he says.
Beckett also sees a burgeoning market, but with established groups ready to take some of the extra work he warns that "people are anticipating the growth too soon".
"The market will reach saturation point fairly quickly and people without the right training and structure will drop out the market," he says.