The Court Can Now Order Parties to Mediate

In the lead judgment in Churchill v Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, Sir Geoffrey Vos, master of the rolls, said: ‘The court can lawfully stay proceedings for, or order, the parties to engage in a non-court-based dispute resolution process, provided that the order made does not impair the very essence of the claimant’s right to proceed to a judicial hearing, and is proportionate to achieving the legitimate aim of settling the dispute fairly, quickly and at reasonable cost.’

Welcoming what he described as an ‘important judgment’, Law Society president Nick Emmerson said: ‘The Law Society strongly believes that non-court based dispute resolution will usually be in the best interests of the parties, but has always had real reservations about a blanket rule making any form of such process mandatory....This judgment reflects those reservations in that it recognises that in some circumstances it may be contrary to a party’s right of access to the courts to compel them to engage in a non-court based dispute resolution process. We welcome the court’s clear guidance as to when and how judges should intervene to encourage non-court based resolution of disputes.’

Bar chair Nick Vineall KC, who represented the bar in the appeal, said: ‘ADR in general, and mediation in particular, are powerful tools for resolving disputes and can save parties time, cost and stress. However, whether or not it is appropriate to compel unwilling parties to use ADR techniques will be highly fact specific.’

 

Oliver Kew

Published on 22/01/2024

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