The court’s encouragement of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) has long been an established feature of civil litigation in English and Wales. ADR is the term used to describe different ways of resolving a dispute (e.g. mediation) without having to go to court. In other words, “alternatives” to litigation, which can help parties resolve disputes more quickly and cost effectively.
Recent case law, however, indicates that the court no longer considers ADR to be an “alternative” to litigation but rather it views ADR as a mandatory part of the litigation process. For example, in Hamon and others v University College London  EWHC 1812 (KB), a group action brought by students against a university regarding their tuition, the court imposed an eight month stay for the parties to attempt ADR. This follows a string of other decisions such as Hussain v Chowdhury, Grenfell Tower Litigation and Andrew v Barclays Bank, where the court ordered stays to facilitate ADR, even where one or all of the parties opposed such a stay.
Most recently, the court’s decision in Churchill v Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council was a landmark ruling for ADR (see our earlier article here) in which the Court of Appeal held that it is not a breach of human rights to integrate mediation into the court process. The Court of Appeal held that the courts can lawfully stay proceedings and order parties to engage in mediation and other forms of ADR where appropriate. The decision was welcomed by the Civil Mediation Council as an important step in elevating the role that ADR can play in dispute resolution.
While not all cases will be suitable for ADR, the hope is that the court’s ability to order parties to participate in ADR, where appropriate, will lead to an increase in the number of disputes settling outside of court, freeing up valuable court time.