The Master of the Rolls wants to “take the ‘alternative” out of ADR” and ensure it is integrated into every stage of the dispute resolution process, he said last week.
Sir Geoffrey Vos said there must be continuing attempts at mediated interventions as cases progress, with online processes the key to this.
This would involve schemes akin to the mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) – a compulsory meeting for anyone who wants to apply to the family court – “making sure that options are explained to the parties before cases begin, followed by targeted and repeated technological and human interventions aimed at resolving the dispute”.
In a speech on Friday to mark the re-launch of Hull University’s Mediation Centre, Sir Geoffrey said: “In short, mediation is not an end in itself. ADR is not alternative.
“Dispute resolution needs to become an integrated process in which the parties feel that there is a continuing drive to help them find the best way to reach a satisfactory solution.”
He suggested that there was a linguistic problem: “Why do we keep on talking about alternative dispute resolution? Dispute resolution should be an integrated whole… There is nothing alternative about either mediation, early neutral evaluation, or judge led resolution.
“What I hope to achieve is take the ‘alternative’ out of ADR, to focus on hard data and make sure that every dispute is tackled at every stage with the intention of bringing about its compromise.
“This can be done very effectively online and I believe that the onset of online dispute resolution in most bulk areas will allow far more cases to be resolved far earlier and far more cheaply.”
He explained how he was keen to work towards the introduction of an integrated online justice system for civil claims, aligned with the systems operated for family and tribunals claims.
“Secondly, I want to see the front-end portals that operate before proceedings are initiated talking freely to the online courts system to which claims that are not resolved will automatically progress. There must be a single data set.
“Thirdly, and most importantly for these purposes, I want to see ADR integrated into every stage of what we call the dispute resolution process. The focus throughout ought to be on resolution rather than dispute.
“It is an easy thing to say, but a much harder one to achieve. My thesis today is that it can only be achieved if we adopt a much broader view of what constitutes alternative dispute resolution, how it is undertaken, and how it is delivered.”
Sir Geoffrey said his theory was that “almost every dispute has a sweet spot when it is amenable to consensual resolution”.
But that sweet spot occurred at different times for different disputes, and in many cases would be hard to identify.
“That is why I am so much in favour of online dispute resolution processes that allow mediated interventions to be suggested frequently at almost every stage of the resolution process.”
Sir Geoffrey added that he would like to see a central website to which anyone could go to be directed towards the most appropriate method of dispute resolution for their problem.