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Courting trouble?

10 March 2016

In its 2015 review and accounts, HM Courts & Tribunal Service (HMCTS) made clear its aims. These included providing the infrastructure for a fair, efficient and accessible courts and tribunals system.

However, on reading those accounts it became clear that they, like most other arms of government, had a problem: money.

That might come as a surprise to a visitor to the newly upgraded Rolls Building in London, which is the centre for international dispute resolution. London, another recent report disclosed, is a major international hub, with over half of the litigants in High Court cases being foreign domiciled. The High Court is a major earner for HMCTS and for London firms.

Around the country the picture is rather different, particularly in the county court, where most cases are dealt with. Complaints to HMCTS about poor service are up from 13,451 to 15,866 in 2015, and in a recent comprehensive survey involving over 200 law firms nationally, 88% of those questioned felt that the county court system as a whole was not fit for purpose.

So what is the Ministry of Justice doing?

Well, perhaps it will come as no surprise; it has decided to close 86 courts and is consulting on increasing fees still further, in some cases by 25-50%.

With the small claims limit having already been increased, preventing recovery of any legal costs for a successful party, more people have been tempted to do it alone. If that has driven down the costs of justice on one hand, perhaps making it more accessible, it has not improved the efficiency or the fairness of the system because there will always be at least one lawyer in the room, the judge, and the case will always be decided on the law.

So what are the alternatives?

Last autumn a new set of regulations were brought in that required all businesses trading on standard terms with consumers to include an option to mediate.

Mediation is a structured negotiation aimed at resolving a dispute in a way that is acceptable to both parties. It involves an independent person (the mediator) trying to help the parties reach an agreement. It can take place at any time and often at a venue to suit the parties.

Does it work?

The simple answer is yes; statistics show that over 75% of cases referred to mediation settle. It has long been available to parties involved in disputes of all types, but in smaller claims it might just be the last best hope for a sensible and swift resolution.

At Willans, we have two in-house accredited professional mediators with many years’ experience in settling a wide spectrum of disputes; involving commercial contracts; landlord and tenant relationships; property ownership; boundaries; rights of way.

Nick is a practitioner with over 30 years’ experience. He specialises in commercial contract disputes and has particular expertise in contentious landlord and tenant work. Legal directory Chambers rates Nick for his property litigation expertise. They say he is: “‘highly knowledgeable’ and does a ‘very good job of handling clients,’ according to interviewees”. Nick is also ranked in the Legal 500 for his work in commercial disputes as well as property litigation. They quote that he “gives ‘careful, clear advice to clients’” and “understands clients’ needs”. 

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Nick Cox LLB (Hons)
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