Lord Neuberger, the President of the Supreme Court, has generated more headlines in the legal world recently by declaring his support for extending compulsory mediation to smaller civil cases. In a speech entitled ‘A View from on High’, Lord Neuberger highlighted the clear benefits that mediation has over court proceedings, including being quicker, less costly and less stressful for the parties involved.
As the law currently stands, separating couples seeking a divorce are firstly required to attempt mediation as a means of reaching a settlement. Given the increase in divorce cases over recent decades, such a scheme has dramatically reduced the number of divorces heard by the courts. This has not only resulted in much faster agreements for the parties involved, but has also significantly lessened the burden on the judiciary’s already busy court schedule.
In giving his support, Lord Neuberger also highlighted just how successful mediation sessions can be in reaching a settlement. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, just under 70% of mediation meetings for divorces successfully resulted in settlement last year.
Nevertheless, the judge did also note potential disadvantages to mediation, including a perceived lack of credibility: ‘The right of access to courts is fundamental and, like all rights, it has to be genuinely available to all. And so mediation must not be invoked and promoted as if it was always an improved substitute for litigation’.
Despite this however, Lord Neuberger is clear that mediation is a tool that should be used more frequently in smaller civil claims. In his speech to the Civil Mediation Conference, Neuberger argued that an effective way to encourage mediation would be to write express mediation clauses into ordinary contracts; in the same way that commercial contracts include compulsory arbitration clauses.
‘There are contract based claims which are pre-eminently suitable for mediation. Thus, there would be much to be said for extending mediation to similar sorts of dispute, such as possession claims based on nuisance and annoyance’.
Critics of mediation have often suggested that such methods of agreement could be worse than useless if they did not result in a settlement. Lord Neuberger answered this criticism by proposing a procedure where mediators could impose a settlement if the opposing parties did reach an agreement within a specified time frame.
‘The knowledge that the mediator will suddenly convert to an arbitrator at a certain moment, like Cinderella turning into a pumpkin at midnight, helps concentrate the parties’ minds on a settlement before that moment arrives.’
At Seatons our team of highly trained legal professionals have a wealth of experience in civil disputes and mediation, and provide clear, easy to understand legal advice at low sensible fees. For more information on mediation and dispute resolution, feel free to give us a call on 01536 276300 or 01536 311690.