The first online dispute resolution (ODR) system for divorcing and separating couples in the UK is to be launched by Relate next spring.
Joe Korner, director of policy and communications at Relate, told Legal Futures it would be based on the pioneering Dutch Rechtwijzer system, which was the first of its kind in Europe.
Like the Dutch system it has been developed by Californian ODR specialists Modria. Mr Korner said Relate – which is the UK’s largest provider of relationship support – had also been helped by family lawyers from Resolution.
Unlike the Rechtwijzer, developed for the country’s legal aid board, Relate has received no government funding for the project, and instead relied on a number of sources, including Google.
Mr Korner said Relate was seeking further funds to develop the British ODR platform in new ways, for example by giving access to children.
“We are developing a version of the Rechtwijzer system with Modria for use in the UK,” he said. “We are trying to provide, as much as we can, a one-stop shop for people going through separation”.
Mr Korner said a “beta model” was currently being tested in London with 28 of Relate’s clients.
“We are not testing what the experience is like for them, but what it is like for our mediators, who may be called on to give advice by our clients, and for our lawyers.
“There is nothing in the system which actually requires the involvement of mediators or lawyers – it is a technology-facilitated negotiation process.
“However, if a couple get stuck when using it, they can access legal advice, mediation or support online or offline. Our mediators are trained to try and find common ground and help people come to conclusions together.”
Mr Korner said staff would give advice by email, or possibly by web cam. Lawyers would also be trained on the system and available online.
He said he could not give any more detail at this stage of lawyer involvement in the Relate platform, but the charity was “pleased to work alongside Resolution” on the system.
“We are hoping to roll it out in the spring in a soft way,” Mr Korner said. “We will keep on working on it and improving it for another 12 months before making it available to everyone.
“We are still seeking funds for the extra things we would like to introduce, such as the voices of children, by allowing them to access the system.”
Mr Korner said the Relate platform had been financed “in a number of ways”, including money earned as finalists in last year’s Google Impact Challenge.
“We are keeping the Ministry of Justice up to date with developments and know they’re very interested in it, but that’s as far as it goes for the moment.
“There is an urgent need for separating couples to access something that brings everything together in one place. Lack of legal aid means people can’t necessarily get access to the courts in the way they traditionally would have done.”
In a report published by last week, Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Relate called for a “single point of access for information and support for all families before, during, and after separation, with the primary route of access via an online interactive portal”.
Modria, which has offices in Silicon Valley and India, was set up by Colin Rule and Chittu Nagarajan, who had helped build ODR systems for eBay and PayPal. Along with the Rechtwijzer platform, Modria has developed an ODR platform for British Columbia in Canada, designed for small civil claims and due to go live in January next year.