An expert in litigation has expressed caution at the news that the rules around legal disputes may be tightened up to oblige parties to try to solve their differences out of courtrooms.
Robert Richards, partner and head of the Litigation team at regional law firm Napthens, revealed that the Civil Justice Council is studying the role of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and its future in the justice system.
ADR offers ways of settling legal disputes that don’t involve going to court. These can include mediation where parties are helped to come to a resolution, and arbitration where a decision is made for them that is legally binding.
These methods can be much cheaper than a court case.
The Civil Justice Council has published an interim report into the system, and has called for submissions from interested parties. It will prepare a final report for the Government to consider.
Robert Richards said one option the Council is considering is to force people to use ADR.
He explained: “There has been debate for some time on how to help parties reduce the resources and funds they take up by pursuing a dispute through the courts.
“ADR is often a very effective way to do this, avoiding often high costs and the time and upset that a lengthy court case can create.
“One option the Civil Justice Council may consider is whether to harden up the rules and actually force people down that route.
“Currently there is just an obligation to consider this option – but it’s not something parties are obliged to sign up to, although they can be penalised if they unreasonably refuse to engage in the process.
“I understand that the Civil Justice Council is looking at toughening up the sanctions around ADR, but will they go as far as saying parties have to take part before they can even issue court proceedings?
“Whilst ADR is always something to consider I would be concerned if parties were obliged to use mediation or some other ADR in all cases as there are often cases where it is not suitable.
“Holding a mediation for the sake of it or to tick a box is only going to increase costs rather than save them. All cases must be looked at based on their individual circumstances and the issues in dispute.
“We will be watching with interest to see how this process develops during 2018.”