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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

Mediation and conciliation are basically the same, though both names are used. These involve an independent mediator (someone who doesn’t take sides and who won’t gain or lose anything by the outcome). They will help you and the other person or company find a solution to the problem. The people involved in the dispute, not the mediator, decide what will happen and the terms of any agreement. But the process is voluntary so you cannot force the other person or organisation to take part.

Mediation and conciliation themselves are not binding, and what is said in mediation or conciliation is confidential, so it cannot be used in court later unless both sides agree that it can. People tend to keep to an agreement reached through mediation or conciliation, because they have prepared its terms themselves. However, if you want, you can ask the court to turn an agreement you make in mediation and conciliation into a consent order, which can be enforced through the court.

You can use mediation and conciliation for a range of different problems.

Mediation for relationship and family problems

Any problems to do with a divorce or separation can go to family mediation. These include:

  • arrangements for children, including where they will live, who they will live with, and how often they will see each parent;
  • what will happen to your home, money and belongings;
  • how your ex-partner or children will be supported; and
  • how and when you will contact your ex-partner.

Some mediation services can also deal with other types of problems within families, including:

  • problems between young people and their parents; and
  • disagreements over who will care for elderly parents and how they will be cared for.

You can find a family mediator or mediation service near you from Gurkha Free Legal Advice, or from the Family Mediation Helpline (see ´Further Help´). There is also more information in the Gurkha Free Legal Advice leaflet 'Family Mediation'.

Mediation for problems with neighbours

If you have a disagreement with a neighbour, for example about noise or harassment, you can try to sort it out using community mediation. See below for how to find mediation services in your area. Community mediation is usually free to local residents. The issues community mediation can deal with include:

  • noise;
  • problems with local children;
  • problems over shared land or facilities;
  • parking;
  • pets; and
  • property boundaries.

For more information see the Gurkha Free Legal Advice leaflet, .

Mediation and conciliation for problems at work

You can try to solve many employment disagreements through mediation or conciliation, including problems to do with:

  • unfair dismissal;
  • equal pay;
  • redundancy payments;
  • terms and conditions of your job;
  • requests for flexible working ; and
  • discrimination because of pregnancy, race, sex or a disability.

Workplace mediation is offered by some community mediation services, and by civil and commercial mediation providers (see the list of contact details).

The organisation Acas offers:

  • face-to-face mediation (for a fee); and
  • free conciliation over the phone for many types of employment problem, if you have applied to an employment tribunal to deal with your dispute.

Remember that there will be strict time limits if you want to take your case to an employment tribunal. These time limits will apply whether or not you try mediation, conciliation or negotiation first. It is important to get independent legal advice about your situation before deciding what to do.

Mediation and conciliation for problems with discrimination if you are disabled

If you have a disability and you feel you have been discriminated against by a retailer, a service provider, or a school or other education provider, you may be able to use the Disability Conciliation Service. Contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission for advice or referral to the scheme (see ´Further help´).

If you feel you have been treated less favourably at work because of a disability, your sex or your race, you can consider using conciliation or mediation provided by Acas.

Harassment and discrimination claims at work or between neighbours can also be sorted out using mediation. See below for how to find mediation services in your area

Mediation for problems with your child's education

You may be able to use a mediation service to help sort out a problem about:

  • how or why your child was excluded from school; or
  • special educational needs that you feel your child has.

All local education authorities (LEAs) are required to provide ‘independent disagreement resolution services’ for disputes about a school’s provision for a child’s special educational needs; in most cases the type of disagreement resolution used is mediation. Your child's school or LEA can give you details of your local service.

Mediation for other problems

You may be able to use mediation for a range of other problems, including:

  • problems with goods and services;
  • business disagreements;
  • medical accidents;
  • personal injury;
  • community care; and
  • housing.

7. Adjudication and arbitration

8. Grievance and complaints procedure

9. Litigation

10. Negotiation

11. Ombudsmen

12. How much does alternative dispute resolution cost?

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: December 2007

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