The UK’s commitment to ADR: Compulsory mediation

On 25 July 2023, the UK Government – the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) adopted a compulsory mediation for all small civil claims valued up to £10,000 starting with specified money claims which amount to 80% of small claims. Indeed, this should not come as a surprise as the Government has been employing innovative manners to ease effective dispute resolution without any need for a mandatory court referral. It was only a year ago when the Government published a Public Consultation on “Increasing the use of mediation in the civil justice system”. Further, there is already serious work being done across the Government to implement the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (the Singapore Convention), which the UK signed on 3 May 2023 (The Singapore Convention on Mediation: The UK’s Serious Commitment to ADR – The Institute of International Shipping & Trade Law (IISTL) Blog). As an integral part of the UK justice system, mediation may save businesses around £5.9 billion per year in management time, relationships, productivity, and legal fees with the value of UK mediated cases each year being estimated at approximately £20bn as of February 2023. The UK’s implementation of the Singapore Convention is expected to bolster the UK’s £17.5 billion mediation sector and underscore its leading role in international commercial dispute resolution and the MoJ’s latest decision will incredibly serve to this target. Along these lines, the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill will also strengthen oversight of dispute resolution opportunities available to consumers; an initiative which would have been more constrained whilst in the EU. According to the newly adopted system, after he filed a defense on a small claim and allocation of the case to the court, mediation will be the next phase and parties will get notified about this. Once they have filled out a ‘directions questionnaire’ the case will move to HM Courts & Tribunals’ free small claims mediation service in a form of an hour-long telephone conversation with the mediator. In case parties will agree on a settlement, the court will register a legally binding formal agreement between them. Otherwise, a judge will hear the dispute. This is indeed a very welcome policy decision and legal reform to ensure easy and accessible dispute resolution by everybody and save both time and expenses while decreasing the workload of the courts. On another note, the intended reforms such as setting a compulsory mediation for all claims issued under the Civil Procedure Rules Part 7 will necessitate a serious planning and strategy. Indeed, the new scheme will provide an avenue for learning the best lessons and adopting them in the later reform stages.