The head of employment at Allen & Overy is joining forces with a group of barristers to start a mediation business handling sexual harassment cases.
Mark Mansell is working with five employment law barristers - all trained mediators - to set up the new company, which is called Workplace Mediation Services. Allen & Overy will provide all the secretarial support during the pilot stage.
The project is the brainchild of the chairman of the Employment Law Bar Association and top employment silk John Bowers QC of Littleton Chambers, who is seeking public backing for the scheme. He says the service will become a limited company once it has shown that it can run successfully.
Companies and local authorities will employ the service to deal with claims against them for sexual harassment, with one leading multinational bank already showing an interest.
Mansell says: "Allen & Overy has always been committed to looking at other ways of resolving disputes, and mediation in employment disputes is much more widespread elsewhere in the world than it is here.
"We are excited to be involved in something like this, not just because it is new but because it is really meeting a need."
Bowers says: "The mediation process moves away from establishing the rights and wrongs of a dispute. It will be particularly relevant where the employee is still with the employer and all parties want that to continue."
The scheme comes a week after leading employment lawyer Janet Gaymer of Simmons & Simmons called for mediation to be used for settling sexual harassment claims. She told The Lawyer (11 October) that cases were not being dealt with quickly enough, despite the fact that many could be resolved.
Other barristers working on the service are Tess Gill of Old Square Chambers, Daniel Stilitz of 11 King's Bench Walk, Ian Gatt of Littleton Chambers and Jason Galbraith-Marten of Cloisters.