Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘alternative dispute resolution

RESOLVING CONSUMER DISPUTES: Alternative Dispute Resolution and the Court System

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Lawyers might think that a government research report with the above heading would/should have been published by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Would this not be a central theme in the Transforming the Justice System programme that is currently underway?

It may therefore come as a surprise that this is the title of a report commissioned and published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). In it consultants have looked at a number of contexts in which consumers may seek to obtain redress for problems they have with traders or other service providers.

The report seems to have been written with no account taken of the not inconsiderable body of work already done on the use of ADR in England and Wales (e.g. the reports by Professor Dame Hazel Genn). There is no reference to the court transformation programme. There is one reference to the Civil Justice Council (though not to its relatively recent paper on ADR). It is as though BEIS and MoJ are living in separate if not parallel universes, with no communication between them.

This may of course be deliberate. It is possible to imagine that BEIS – who have responsibility for promoting business and protecting consumers – have become fed up with the slow place of change in the use of ADR in the court system and want to charge ahead with their own initiatives.

What is interesting, however, is to see just how pervasive the use of ADR mechanisms are in the UK. The report sets out a list of 95 bodies who offer differing forms of ADR for the resolution of complaints and disputes. And there is an intriguing footnote citing more recent research, undertaken by Citizen’s Advice, which reveals that the total number of such schemes is approaching 150.

From the data they collected, the researchers suggest that ADR is quicker and cheaper than the courts; that those who use either the courts or ADR are in general, older, better off and better educated than consumers taken as a whole; and that these groups are in general better informed about the existence of different forms of ADR.

It is not the function of this report to argue that either use of ADR or use of the courts is to be the preferred method for resolving consumer disputes. But the researchers do, at the end, list a number of ‘indicators’ that could be used for ongoing monitoring of the use of ADR. This suggests to me that BEIS might hope to find over the years greater consumer awareness of and use of ADR schemes for the resolution of consumer disputes.

What the policy outcomes of this study will be are hard to discern from the present document. One may guess that, for modest-value disputes, use of different forms of ADR will steadily grow. What is surprising is the apparent lack of contact with others working on the reform of civil justice.

The report can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/resolving-consumer-disputes-alternative-dispute-resolution-and-the-court-system

(I am grateful to Walter Merricks, CBE, for drawing the existence of this report to my attention.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Next steps for ADR?

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In October 2017, the Civil Justice Council published an important consultation paper on the future of ADR.

The paper noted:

The stage has been reached where in various categories of dispute in England and Wales (notably family and employment) the parties are actually required to take steps directed solely to exploring settlement. Nobody in these systems is required to settle, but they are required to commit time and often money to exploring the possibility.
The Courts and rule makers in the non‐family civil justice system in England and Wales have been less forceful. The encouragement of ADR is currently achieved by:
(a) exhortations to try to  settle and to use ADR in Court forms and documents;
(b) links and signposts to sources of information about ADR
(c) tick‐box requirements that clients have, for example, been advised of the need to settle if possible and of the availability at ADR

(d) costs sanctions being imposed after judgment in the relatively rare cases in which one party can establish that his opponent has unreasonably refused or failed to mediate.
(e) the Courts’ acknowledgement that litigation lawyers are now under a professional obligation to advise their clients of the availability and advantages of ADR.
Almost all of these measures are well crafted and well thought out. But in our view the system as a whole is not working….
The Paper then goes on to ask whether the time has come for a different approach.
While noting that online dispute resolution may offer effective ways to resolve disputes, the Paper acknowledges that at present we simply do not know what that new system will look like.
Thus the basic proposition in the Paper is that:
the Court should promote the use of ADR more actively at and around the allocation and directions stage. We think that the threat of costs sanctions at the end of the day is helpful but that the court should be more interventionist at an earlier stage when the  decisions about ADR are actually being taken. We think there should be a presumption that in most cases if parties have not been able to settle a case by the directions stage they should be required to bring forward proposals for engaging in some form of ADR.
Some of us, a minority, would go further and introduce ADR either as a condition of access to the Court in the first place or later as a condition of progress beyond the Case Management Conference…
Overall we draw attention to the fundamental problem of the failure so far to make

ADR familiar to the public and culturally normal. Meeting this wider challenge will
ultimately be more important than any tuning of the rules of civil procedure.
I have long been a supporter of the use of ADR in civil proceedings. Indeed, many years ago I chaired a sub-committee of the Civil Justice Council that considered ways to promote the use of ADR. In welcoming the new paper I make the following suggestions:
1 To be successful, the judiciary must be supportive of the idea of promoting the use of ADR. If they are not supportive, then they will be less interventionist than the paper is suggesting they should be.
2 The judiciary need training in what ADR actually is and how it can be used as a dispute resolution tool. We ran an experimental workshop in which judges took part in role play exercises using ADR techniques. Having a ‘feel’ for the power of ADR in helping parties reach agreements should overcome judicial scepticism – if such still exists – about its value.
3 I think that consideration be given to rebranding Courts as Court and Dispute-Resolution Centre – which happens in some other countries. This sends the clear message that ADR is not something separate from the courts but integral to the Courts’ function.
4. It might be possible that a cadre of judiciary could train as ADR providers and undertake some mediations. (They could not of course hear cases that failed to settle.) But parties might be more willing to accept a process led by a judge rather than someone outside the Court structure.

The Consultation runs until mid-December 2017. The Interim Paper is at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/interim-report-future-role-of-adr-in-civil-justice-20171017.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

October 19, 2017 at 3:05 pm

Review of the structure of the civil courts

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The review of the structure of the civil courts, undertaken at great speed and efficiency by Lord Justice Briggs, was published on 27 July 2016.

Although commissioned by the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls rather than by Government Ministers, there are strong reasons to believe that its recommendations will be taken forward by Government. The one uncertainty is how far the new Lord Chancellor and Secretary of Justice, Lynne Truss MP, will focus on an initiative originally supported by her predecessor, Michael Gove MP.

The recommendation that has grabbed most public attention so far relates to the recommendation for The Online Court. 

This would be a new court, designed to be used by people with minimum assistance from lawyers, with its own set of user-friendly rules. It is anticipated that it will eventually become the compulsory forum for resolving cases within its jurisdiction. It should start by  dealing with straightforward money claims valued at up to £25,000.

The review makes recommendations about how to help people who need assistance with online systems.

It is also provided that complex and important cases, even of low monetary value, should be able to be transferred upwards to higher courts.

Briggs also recommends important changes to who should be undertaking the work of the courts. Judicial resources should be made more readily available by the creation of Case Officers.

These would be a senior body of court lawyers and other officials who can assist with certain functions currently carried out by judges, such as paperwork and uncontentious matters. They would be trained and  supervised by judges. Their decisions would be subject to reconsideration by judges on request by a party. They would operate independently of government when exercising their functions.

Thirdly Briggs deals with the thorny problem of the Enforcement of Judgments and Orders.

He recommends that there should be a single court as the default court for the enforcement of the judgments and orders of all the civil courts (including the new Online Court). This should be the County Court, but there would need to be a permeable membrane allowing appropriate enforcement issues to be transferred to the High Court, and special provision for the enforcement of arbitration awards, in accordance with current practice and procedure.

He wants to see all enforcement procedures being digitised, centralised and rationalised.

Fourth, Briggs is keen to promote Mediation/ADR.

This has been on the agenda for years. In this context he recommends the re-establishment of a court-based out of hours private mediation service in County Court hearing centres prepared to participate, along the lines of the service which existed prior to the establishment and then termination of the National Mediation Helpline. My view is that all county court hearing centres should be required to offer this; but Briggs clearly felt this was a step too far at this stage.

Future issues

Briggs also sets out a number of proposals for further restructuring of the civil courts. These include:

  1. a review of High Court divisions;
  2. a single portal for the issue of all civil proceedings, leading to the eventual abolition of District Registries;
  3. a review of whether procedural changes in the Court of Appeal should be applied to appeals to the High Court and to Circuit Judges in the County Court;
  4. the possible convergence of Employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal tribunal with the county court;
  5. he would like to see the Family Court being given a shared jurisdiction (with the Chancery Division and the County Court) for dealing with Inheritance Act disputes and disputes  about the co-ownership of homes.

Announcements about the Government’s response to these recommendations and how they fit into the current programme of reform of the court estate will be noted here in due course.

Detail about the Briggs review can be found at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/civil-courts-structure-review/civil-courts-structure-review-ccsr-final-report-published/civil-courts-structure-review-final-report-press-notice/

Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumers – new developments

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The Department for Business Innovation and Skills has just published an important policy paper relating to alternative dispute resolution for consumers. It summarises changes in the law which come into effect in July 2015.

The paper notes that common forms of ADR are:

  • mediation, where an independent third party helps the disputing parties to come to a mutually acceptable outcome
  • arbitration, where an independent third party considers the facts and takes a decision that’s often binding on one or both parties.

In the UK, there are already several large and well-established ADR schemes in regulated sectors. These include:

  • financial services
  • energy
  • telecoms

Outside the regulated sectors, many businesses are already members of voluntary ADR schemes.

Alternative Dispute Regulations 2015

Two sets of regulations, in March and June 2015, have been laid in Parliament to implement the European Directive on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in the UK.

In outline, the regulations:

  • place an information requirement on businesses selling to consumers informing them of an ADR service they may be able to use in the event of a dispute that cannot be resolved in-house (this obligation does not come into effect until October 2015)
  • establish competent authorities to certify ADR schemes
  • set the standards that ADR scheme applicants must meet in order to achieve certification.

In the regulated sectors, the regulators will act as the competent authority. These include

  • Ofgem
  • Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)
  • Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)

In all other areas the Secretary of State will be the generic competent authority. He has appointed the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) to carry out these functions on his behalf. The CTSI website sets out the bodies it has already certified as ADR providers; the information will be updated regularly as the implementation date gets closer.

While the regulations do not make participation in ADR schemes mandatory for traders, the regulations do require almost all businesses which sell directly to consumers to point the consumer to a certified ADR scheme – where they cannot resolve a dispute in-house – and declare whether or not they intend to use that scheme. The Government clearly hopes that traders will see that offering  their customers access to a free dispute resolution service, rather than going to court, will be an attractive additional service they can offer.

The Policy Paper also flags up developments in On-line Dispute Resolution where new law will be introduced in January 2016. This is designed to enable people who have bought goods or services online from other countries in Europe will have access to an on-line dispute resolution service (very much on the lines that e-Bay already offers).

It can be observed that these developments are being driven by the Department for Business not the Ministry of Justice – but they are clearly in line with MoJ policy relating to proportionate dispute resolution.

To read the policy paper, go to https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/alternative-dispute-resolution-for-consumers/alternative-dispute-resolution-for-consumers

To read about the Chartered Trading Standards Institute go to http://www.tradingstandards.uk/home.cfm

To see the list of certified ADR providers go to http://www.tradingstandards.uk/advice/AlternativeDisputeResolution.cfm

Written by lwtmp

June 24, 2015 at 10:48 am

Reforming the Civil Justice system

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There have recently been two reports making proposals for reform of the civil justice system.
In the first, published in February 2015, a committee of the Civil Justice Council, chaired by Professor Richard Susskind made proposals for the development of online dispute resolution (ODR)

In summary the report calls for radical change in the way that the court system of England and Wales handles low value civil claims. We strongly advocate the introduction of online dispute resolution (ODR). The committee argued, in outline:

  • For low value claims, we are concerned that our current court system is too costly, too slow, and
    too complex, especially for litigants in person.
  • To overcome these problems, our main recommendation is that HM Courts & Tribunals Service
    should establish a new, Internet-based court service, known as HM Online Court (HMOC).
  • On HMOC, members of the Judiciary would decide cases on an online basis, interacting
    electronically with parties. Earlier resolution of disputes on HMOC would also be achieved –
    through the work of individuals we call ‘facilitators’.
  • We predict two major benefits would flow from HMOC – an increase in access to justice (a
    more affordable and user-friendly service) and substantial savings in the cost of the court system.
  • ODR is not science fiction. We present a series of case studies from around the world that clearly
    demonstrate its potential.
  • We argue that to improve access to justice, it is vital not just to have better methods of resolving
    disputes but also to have effective ways of avoiding and containing disputes. ODR can help here.
  • The technology underpinning ODR is evolving rapidly. We make a series of predictions about
    the likely capabilities of later generations of ODR system.
  • Our Group would be pleased to work closely with HMCTS in a new phase of work, that should
    focus on piloting the proposals in this report.

Their report is available at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/reviews/online-dispute-resolution/odr-report-february-2015/

More recently JUSTICE has published an important report – Civil Justice in an Age of Austerity. A Committee, chaired by retired Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stanley Burnton, argues that the age of austerity should also be seen as ‘an age of opportunity’ to change the way the civil justice system operates.

It supports the proposals for ODR made by the Civil Justice Group (above) but goes further proposing that the courts take more responsibility for ‘triaging’ cases – with court officials playing a more proactive role in helping parties to disputes to resolve their problems themselves, leaving judges to deal with the most complex cases. It also argues for better information about legal rights and obligations.

The JUSTICE report is available at http://justice.org.uk/delivering-justice-in-an-age-of-austerity-report-launch/

Given the General Election, it will be some time before policy initiatives – if any – emerge from Government. But they show that there are influential figures in the legal system anxious to promote greater efficiency and a clearer user focus on the work of the courts.