THE FIRST mediation service to be offered through the court system will be on trial from mid-May at the Central London County Court.

The one-year pilot scheme offers mediation as a first step to resolving disputes ranging from £3,000 to £10,000.

Within 28 days of agreeing to mediation, parties will have a single session with a trained mediator, which will last up to three hours.

Each party will be required to pay £25 towards the mediator's expenses.

If no agreement is reached after the mediation, the dispute will be referred to the court for listing.

The scheme is part of an initiative by Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay to improve access to justice.

“While we will always need the courts to resolve some disputes that cannot be settled any other way, I believe that alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, is often a more appropriate way of handling such matters,” he said.

It is the first mediation service to be offered with the support of the Lord Chancellor's Department.

Judge Neil Butter QC is overseeing the scheme. He said it neatly complements the new upper rate of £3,000 for hearings in the small claims jurisdiction.

When the pilot scheme is fully established the court anticipates handling 15 to 20 mediations each week.