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23 Alternatives to court

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1. Introduction

2. What alternatives are there to court?

3. Do I need a lawyer to use alternative dispute resolution?

4. How do I decide whether to use an alternative dispute resolution scheme?

5. How do alternative dispute resolution schemes work?

6. Mediation and conciliation

7. Adjudication and arbitration

8. Grievance and complaints procedure

9. Litigation

10. Negotiation

11. Ombudsmen

12. How much does alternative dispute resolution cost?

When working out how much it will cost to deal with a problem, you need to take into account:

  • fees or charges for the alternative dispute resolution service (unless it is free);
  • your own expenses, including things like travel and photocopying;
  • the cost of legal help and advice; and
  • the risk of you not getting what you want.

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 and the small claims 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.

Mediation costs can vary, depending on the type of mediation. For example:

  • community mediation is usually free to local residents;
  • family mediation services often charge an hourly rate. Some have a scale of fees, so what you pay depends on how much money you have;
  • commercial mediation providers charge according to the complexity and value of the claim;
  • many county courts in England and Wales provide free small-claims mediation for people who have an existing claim in court; and
  • mediators through the National Mediation Helpline will provide half a day of mediation for £250 plus VAT per party.

If you are eligible for legal aid, the Community Legal Service fund will pay for the cost of your mediation or other form of alternative dispute resolution. Sometimes, the organisation you are complaining about pays all the costs because they are the financially stronger side.

Most consumer arbitration schemes run by IDRS cost between £10 and £100, but some are free. And if you win your case, you will get back any fee you have paid.

Ombudsman schemes tend to be the least expensive to use, as they are free to the person complaining. Community mediation doesn’t cost much either. It usually involves face- to-face meetings, so you may have to pay travel and other expenses, but you may be able to get these back as part of a mediated agreement if both sides agree to this.

You may have to pay for travel expenses, childcare costs, and time off work if you have to go to a hearing. Photocopying evidence can be expensive, so don’t forget this cost if you are using a process such as arbitration where you have to provide many documents.

Can I get help with the costs?

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. If you meet these conditions, you may get help with:

  • the costs of preparing your case for mediation or arbitration;
  • the cost of legal advice before and during an ADR;
  • the fee for mediation or arbitration.

See ‘The Community Legal Service’ for how to find out more about legal aid.

13. Dispute resolution services

14. Further help

15. About this leaflet

This leaflet is published by the Gurkha Free Legal Advice (LSC). It was written in association with the Advice Services Alliance.

Leaflet Version: November 2007

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