Judges at the Technology and Construction Court are to pilot a mediation-style dispute resolution service from the start of next month.
Under the "court settlement process", judges who have received appropriate training will offer to resolve disputes using conventional mediation techniques.
If a settlement is not reached and the case proceeds to litigation, the judge concerned will have no further role in the proceedings. However, they will be able to set out their views on the dispute and the likely outcome of the case, if the parties ask them to.
The initiative has been given a lukewarm response from lawyers. Some point out that parties may be unwilling to show their dirty laundry to a judge whom they may run into again in litigation. Others wonder if judges will make good mediators, given that the job requires a grasp of commercial rather than legal matters.
If a permanent mediation service is established it will place the TCC in competition with organisations such as the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution.
Karl Mackie, CEDR's chief executive, said: "If judges are going to do this it is imperative that they are trained and operate to recognised market standards."
The TCC's move follows a decline in litigation since the late 1990s, when adjudication and the civil procedure rules were introduced.