A lawyer and mediator claims to have facilitated the first online dispute settled by computer algorithm in a public court in England and Wales. Graham Ross said the web tool SmartsettleONE resolved a case last week in the new Online Civil Money Claims Court.

The dispute over unpaid fees for a counselling course, estimated at £2,000, had been in the court process for three months, following an unsuccessful telephone mediation. Ross said the parties had settled within an hour of the first use of the tool.

The blind-bid system works by enabling parties to make offers and counter-offers, placing a flag along a slider any number of times until a resolution is reached. Algorithms learn the bidding tactics and priorities of both parties and help ‘nudge’ them into an agreed settlement without revealing the secret bids. The settlement figure will be within the range of each party but the system will reward the party who makes more effort to settle.

Ross said the system can reduce the usual negotiation ‘dance’ where parties sit on offers that are less than their bottom lines. The tool was developed by iCan Systems Inc of British Columbia and introduced to the parties by Ross through his online dispute resolution website. 

Ross said: ‘These tools are a great example of how ODR should be looked at not as a threat to the work of mediators, but as a great opportunity to improve the service they provide.’ 

The Civil Money Claims Online service has been undergoing public beta tests since March 2018, providing a digital service for people to issue and respond to claims of up to £10,000. Earlier this month, HM Courts & Tribunals Service reported more than 43,000 claims had been issued.