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Court-Ordered Mediation Applies in Any Dispute, Ruling Decides
June 27, 2024

A recent decision by the Court of Appeal has established that parties involved in any kind of dispute can now be ordered by the courts to use alternative methods of dispute resolution (ADR). 

Appeal Court judges in Churchill vs Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council (2023) ruled on 29 November 2023 that the Court can order parties to engage in non-court dispute resolution (NCDR) and/or a stay in proceedings to allow for NCDR to take place. 

NCDR involves resolving a dispute through a process other than the courts where common forms of NCDR include mediation, arbitration, adjudication, and early neutral evaluation (ENE). 

The Court of Appeal stated: “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.” 

The Court of Appeal case was overseen by the Master of the Rolls, the Lady Chief Justice and Lord Justice Birse where it establishes itself as a landmark judgment because previously, courts could only order compulsory forms of ADR in construction contract disputes under the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996. 

The Churchill case started as a claim of nuisance brought by James Churchill against Merthyr Tydfil County Council. Mr Churchill said that encroachment of Japanese knotweed from the adjacent council-owned property in 2016 had caused damage to his property, resulting in loss of value and enjoyment.  

In their response to Mr Churchill’s letter before claim, the Council suggested that Mr Churchill should have made a complaint using their corporate complaints procedure and warned that if a claim was issued, they would apply to the Court for a stay to force him to pursue a claim via the Complaints Procedure route. 

Mr Churchill issued his claim in July 2021 and the Council applied for a stay in February 2022. This prompted the need for the Court to consider a far wider-reaching question: whether it has the power to order a stay in proceedings to allow parties to explore NCDR procedures (such as the Complaints Procedure). 

While the ruling does not go so far as to make mediation a compulsory step in all court proceedings, Churchill means judges can order parties to attend a mediation or another form of NCDR if they consider that the parties would benefit from engaging in settlement outside of a trial. 

The judgment in Churchill comes as the government seeks to encourage warring parties to explore practical alternatives to litigation and mirrors moves around the world as an increasing number of jurisdictions begin to accept ADR as a preferred way to try to resolve disputes. 

NCDR can be a highly effective and cost-efficient means of dispute resolution which, if successful, avoids the stress, time, publicity, and high costs associated with litigation and trial. 

In their judgment in Churchill, the Master of the Rolls said: “Even with initially unwilling parties, mediation can often be successful. Mediation, early neutral evaluation, and other means of non-court-based dispute resolution are, in general terms, cheaper and quicker than court-based solutions.” 

For more about the different options available for resolving disputes, click here. 

Compulsory Mediation Lawyers London 

Muscatt Black Graf’s Dispute Resolution team deals with civil and commercial disputes and provides practical and pragmatic legal advice to ensure any disputes are resolved quickly and cost-effectively. 

We understand that taking legal action for any reason can be extremely stressful, particularly when you are unsure about the costs and process involved.  

Our experienced team of Dispute Resolution solicitors will explain exactly what is involved at every stage of the process and advise on the best possible course of action depending on your needs. 

We offer specialist dispute resolution advice in the following areas: 

  • Arbitration. 
  • Commercial/Contract Disputes. 
  • Property Disputes. 
  • Insolvency. 
  • Probate and Trust Disputes. 

Muscatt Black Graf’s Dispute Resolution department is headed up by partners Yvonne Addy and Andrew Wheldon 

Yvonne’s practice encompasses a broad spectrum including company, commercial, property, construction, employment, matrimonial and probate law. She has previously acted for a foreign state in international arbitration and regularly acts in high value litigation for domestic and international trusts, corporations, and high-net-worth individuals.  

Andrew acts for individuals and corporate clients on a wide range of contentious matters. His practice has a strong commercial property element, covering the full range of disputes arising from the Landlord and Tenant relationship, including renewals under the 1954 Act, restrictive covenants, and Lands Tribunal matters.   

For advice on Dispute Resolution matters, please email Muscatt Black Graf on contact@muscattblackgraf.com. Alternatively, click here to complete our online contact form. 

This blog was prepared on 29 May 2024. It is not intended to be advice and should not be relied upon as such. 

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