Faster resolution for small claims and away from court following new mediation rules

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More small claims will be resolved faster and away from court following new rules requiring mediation. 

The change, which comes into effect today (22 May 2024), means parties in money claims up to the value of £10,000 must take part in a free one-hour mediation appointment, provided by HMCTS’ Small Claims Mediation Service. 

These types of claims often include issues such as businesses recovering debt from customers, individuals contesting parking tickets, or disagreements over payments for goods and services – such as a homeowner suing builders for not completing work as agreed. 

Today’s move could see an extra 5,000 judicial sitting days per year made available, which judges can dedicate to efficiently resolving cases less suited to mediation.  

Justice Minister Lord Bellamy KC said: 

We know successful mediation is quicker and less stressful than court battles. While not every case will be resolved in this way, by embedding mediation into the courts process, thousands more undoubtedly will.  

Crucially this will improve the experience for those embroiled in a dispute, while freeing up time for our judges to focus on the most complex cases and keep our courts running smoothly.

About 85,000 of small money claims cases progressed through the County Courts in 2022. Parties in 20,000 of these cases opted into voluntary mediation, and the HMCTS service was able to help settle more than half of those. 

It is anticipated integrating mediation into the court process will result in tens of thousands of successful out-of-court resolutions.  

To support this, HMCTS has more than doubled the number of mediators employed, from 25 to 64. Extra administrative staff have also been recruited, and online systems improved.  

Akeela Amijee, a mediation service manager with HMCTS, said:  

Mediation is a brilliant service and making it an integrated step in the court journey is incredibly exciting. We are absolutely ready for this expansion and it’s going to make a really positive difference to a lot of people. I’ve never had anybody say they wish they hadn’t had their mediation session, even when they don’t settle. 

Going to court and standing in front of a judge can be nerve-racking for people, not to mention the time and money spent travelling to a court. Mediation works because it allows people to be heard and get everything off their chest in a calm, non-judgemental environment. We are neutral and take out any of the hostility between parties, which means an hour is often more than enough time to resolve these cases.

Mediation sessions are generally organised within 28 days, which is often much quicker than the wait for a court date. It is also a cheaper alternative to court as there is no hearing fee to pay. 

HMCTS mediators speak to each side separately and work between the two to find a solution each side can agree on. If the parties do not agree on a resolution at mediation, the case will progress to a hearing before a judge.    

If a party does not attend the required mediation appointment without good reason, the judge may apply a sanction at the final hearing. This could include a fine, covering the cost of the wasted mediation appointment, or in extreme circumstances having their claim or defence dismissed. 

Mediation will not take place where there are safeguarding concerns, for example in instances where there is domestic abuse or where there are vulnerable parties. 

Rebecca Clark, Chair of the Civil Mediation Council, said: 

Being involved in a dispute is stressful and time-consuming. By mediating, people are given the opportunity to explore ways to resolve matters consensually, and if they choose to settle, to reach an acceptable outcome more quickly than through the courts.  

Embedding mediation into the small claims process normalises a more conciliatory approach to dispute resolution, benefitting society as a whole.

Integrated mediation is being rolled out initially to new claims made on paper and through HMCTS’ ‘legacy’ systems. These cases represent more than 70 per cent of these types of claims.  

Cases submitted through Online Civil Money Claims (OCMC) will be included in the scheme  at a later date. 

James South, Chief Executive of CEDR said: 

CEDR welcomes the introduction of mediation as a required, integrated step in small claim money disputes under £10,000, being implemented by HMCTS.  

This is an important and common-sense next step in the development of mediation within the civil justice system and will hopefully open the way for even deeper integration of the use of mediation across the courts in England and Wales.

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