The president of the Supreme Court has tentatively thrown his support behind extending compulsory mediation to smaller civil cases.
Lord Neuberger, in a speech entitled ‘a view from on high’, praised mediation for being quicker, cheaper, less stressful and less time-consuming than litigation. He also said potential outcomes were more flexible and more likely to leave both parties emerging as ‘winners’.
Due to the benefits of mediation he argued that there is ‘a lot of be said’ for extending compulsory mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAM), which the Ministry of Justice introduced last spring, to smaller civil claims.
The MIAM scheme, which is often free, currently has to be used before parties can bring family proceedings.
Neuberger also advocated extending mediation to contract-based disputes such as possession claims based on nuisance and annoyance, adding that some tenancy agreements could include a clause requiring mediation.
But he said that more data was needed on mediation to fully identify what types of cases are likely to mediate successfully.
Neuberger noted that there are some disadvantages to mediation, including a perceived lack of credibility.
‘The right of access to courts is fundamental and, like all rights, it has to be genuinely available to all. And so mediation must not be invoked and promoted as if it was always an improved substitute for litigation,’ he said.
But he added that despite this ‘we can and should be pretty uninhibited’ about supporting the idea of mediation in civil and family disputes.
In many civil and family cases proper litigation would lead to costs and time being disproportionate to the value of the case, he said.
Neuberger’s comments come against the backdrop of what he calls an ‘almost perfect storm of financial difficulties’ that could deprive ordinary people from access to justice.