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Proposals for automatic referral to mediation in small claims

Wed, 30 March 2011

In an announcement by the Ministry of Justice yesterday

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said:

'An effective system of civil justice is one of the cornerstones of a civilised society. Without it businesses couldn't trade, individuals couldn't protect their liberties, and government couldn't be held to account. But, despite this, most people dread going to court because of all the cost and anxiety it involves. We must change that by helping them to avoid court where possible and cutting costs where that is unavoidable.

'With no major reform for 15 years, the civil justice system has got out of kilter. Businesses and other people who have been sued can find that spiralling legal costs, slow court processes, unnecessary litigation and the 'no win no fee' structures, which mean greater payments to lawyers than to claimants, are setting them back millions of pounds each year.

'At a time when the Government is committed to doing all it can to help businesses to grow and to help ordinary citizens to regard the justice system without fear, I will not allow this to continue.'

In proposals announced yesterday relating to England and Wales

Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly added:

'The Government has today confirmed it will go ahead with the plans in last year's consultation 'Proposals for reform of civil litigation funding and costs in England and Wales'.

At the same time, the Government launches a new consultation on radically reforming the civil justice system - 'Solving disputes in the county courts: creating a simpler, quicker and more proportionate system'. This consultation proposes (amongst other things):

  • Increasing the use of mediation: We are proposing introducing automatic referral to mediation in small claims cases, automatic referral to mediation awareness sessions in higher-value cases and consulting on making mediated settlements enforceable by courts. This is to help people avoid the anxiety and expense of court where possible, although court will still be an option for those who mediation cannot help.

    Over the past two years around 10,000 small claims have been mediated with nearly three-quarters reaching successful conclusion. We know that 96 per cent of mediation takes place over the telephone - saving people from the time and expense of having to attend a court - and so want to extend people's awareness and use of mediation to help disputes be resolved more efficiently and at an earlier stage. Last year, more than three quarters of claims in the civil system were settled after allocation, but before trial. This represents 87,000 cases which could potentially have been resolved earlier if mediation had been used more widely. 
  • Raising the maximum value for small claims from £5,000 to £15,000: This would enable more cases to be heard through the simple small claims process rather than a more costly, complicated trial.'

A full report can be seen at www.justice.gov.uk



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