Alternative dispute resolution: better than going to court

Article reference: UK-IA-LAW27
Last updated: December 2020 | 3 min read

Disputes arise in every area of our lives. Court procedures (litigation) are incredibly expensive, mostly as a result of the cost of hiring lawyers.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is simply shorthand for “solving a dispute without going to court”. The principle can be applied to anything from divorce to the sale of an oil tanker. It is most commonly used in matrimonial proceedings and employment disputes.

ADR includes arbitration, mediation and ombudsmen schemes. The advantages of all forms of ADR over litigation are: flexibility, speed, less stress and lower cost.

You can also use some ADR schemes in addition to court or a tribunal.

Deciding whether to use an alternative dispute resolution scheme

The outcome of ADR can be very different from the outcome of litigation. Whereas going to court may give you:

  • an order that something be done or stopped
  • compensation
  • a judgement from the court about who is right and who is wrong

by using an ADR, you might obtain:

  • a change in the way a person or organisation behaves
  • a promise that a person or company won't do something
  • something you own repaired
  • something you own replaced
  • an apology
  • an explanation for what happened to you
  • a mistake corrected
  • compensation (for example, for an injury)

When you consider how to resolve a problem, the result you want should be only one factor. The other thing to consider is what effort is involved from you to obtain the result you want: how much it will cost financially, emotionally and how much time it will take.

When working out how much it will cost to deal with a problem, you need to take into account both the charges for the ADR service and your own expenses (such as travel and advice). You need to assess the cost versus the probability of winning.

For example, you need to know if you will be responsible for paying the other side's legal fees and other expenses if you lose. And you need to know if you can expect to get your costs and expenses paid if you win.

The general principle that applies in civil courts in England and Wales is that the loser pays the other side's costs as well as their own, except in the family courts, where each side normally pays their own costs. In alternative dispute resolution, the general principle is that each side pays their own costs.

You should also be aware that if you unreasonably refuse to consider a form of ADR before or during civil litigation, then you may not get your legal costs back, even if you win.

You may be able to get help with the costs of using an ADR scheme if you are eligible for legal aid. This will depend on whether you can afford to pay and if you meet other conditions.

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