Pursuing a Court action to assert your legal rights is not for the faint-hearted. Even the most straightforward County Court case can take at least 12 months to get to hearing. Then there’s the prospect, even in victory, of your opponent not having the wherewithal to meet a judgement made in your favour. Throughout that period you’ve stressed about every aspect of the proceedings and ultimately been subjected to a rigorous cross-examination by a barrister who twists everything you say, which is about as enticing as unanaesthetised root canal work.
And then there’s the cost. A County Court bunfight for £15,000 requiring expert evidence could set you back well over £10,000 if you lose. Compared to that figure, costs for a lengthy High Court action are eye-watering and worryingly open-ended. An adverse outcome could ruin both you and your business. It’s no wonder that politicians, judges and professional bodies are increasingly encouraging alternative means of resolving disputes.
One such means is mediation. Parties to a dispute can voluntarily appoint a mediator who will attempt to independently facilitate a settlement. His or her role is neutral with the parties retaining control of the entire process. Agreement will not be imposed and the mediator will not express an opinion on the respective merits. Confidentiality is paramount, and if the mediation is unsuccessful any concessions made during its course cannot subsequently be relied on. The environment in which it is conducted is more relaxed than the gladiatorial arena of the Courts and the solutions achieved not subject to the strictures of the reliefs which judges have power to award. You’ve lost very little if it doesn’t work. You can opt out of the process at any stage and embark on litigation if circumstances dictate.
Members of the Law Society’s Dispute Resolution Service are reporting a marked increase in the uptake of methods of alternative dispute resolution, testament to the fact that more often than not, they work.
One involvement in a mediation proved particularly rewarding. Battle lines were drawn (literally) between protagonists in a boundary dispute and relations were predictably vitriolic. Court proceedings would have involved solicitors, barristers and expert surveyors at a cost of tens of thousands and would have endured possibly for years. In the end all a judge would have power to determine would be where the boundary lay – and then the practical problems would really have started. Instead the parties opted to mediate with the following consequences:
- from the appointment of the mediator the process took less than 3 months;
- Law Society House’s suite of rooms was a user-friendly venue;
- innovative solutions were crafted to deal with issues such a building works, fencing, access etc much of which would have been beyond the competence of a Court;
- the increased polarity of litigation was avoided: both parties professed themselves happy with the outcome and the process;
- as I understand it they have renewed their previously civil approach to each other; and
- without the need for barristers and experts the client’s bill came to £5000.
My most recent forays into alternative dispute resolution involve having been appointed as mediator to facilitate a harmonious dissolution of a business partnership and the mediation of a case listed for hearing in the High Court in October, effecting a saving of approximately £30,000 - £40,000 in costs per party.
Next time you see a row brewing, give mediation some serious consideration. It may well save you money, time and face.
For further information visit www.fisherlaw-ni.co.uk/mediation or call us today on 028 2585 7257 for an informal chat.