Court of Appeal orders early neutral evaluation despite party objection

The Court of Appeal has held that the court has power to order an early neutral evaluation (ENE) by a judge even where one or more parties do not consent to that course. There was no reason to imply into the relevant rule giving the court power to order ENE any limitation based on the parties’ consent: Lomax v Lomax [2019] EWCA Civ 1467.

Early neutral evaluation (ENE) is a form of alternative dispute resolution in which a neutral third party (often a judge) provides the disputing parties with a non-binding assessment of the merits of the dispute. The aim of the process is to assist the parties’ bilateral settlement discussions by encouraging them to appraise their cases realistically and step away from deadlocked positions.

The use of ENE in the UK has been very limited to date and the decision has the potential to prompt an increase in its use.  Although it is unlikely to result in a large number of cases where judges order such a hearing over the parties’ objections, particularly in commercial disputes, the increased prominence of the process through the Court of Appeal’s strong endorsement of it could feasibly lead to it being more frequently suggested by judges and/or proposed by parties.

Perhaps more importantly, the decision is arguably of wider significance in the context of the ongoing debate as to the extent to which the court’s encouragement of ADR should extend into compulsion.  Since the Court of Appeal’s 2004 decision in Halsey v Milton Keynes General NHS Trust [2004] 1 WLR 3002, the established position in the UK has been that, while the court may strongly encourage parties to engage in ADR (including imposing costs sanctions for unreasonable refusal to mediate), this power stops short of compelling unwilling parties to do so.   Amongst other reasons, it was held in Halsey that such compulsion would amount to an unacceptable obstruction of the parties right of access to the court, in breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, as efforts to increase the use of ADR have failed to meet expectations, and with the increased focus on the efficient use of the courts’ resources, there have been increasingly prominent voices calling for a reconsideration of this position, at least for particular categories of disputes. These voices include that of Lord Justice Ward in Wright v Michael Wright Supplies Ltd & Anor [2013] EWCA Civ 234 (see our post here), in which Ward LJ (who was himself on the panel in Halsey) queried with hindsight the correctness of the “access to justice” objection.  Whilst the point did not need to be decided in Wright, Ward LJ suggested that a bold judge may in future wish to rule on this question, in order that the Court of Appeal might revisit this aspect of Halsey.

The Court of Appeal in the present case has not directly taken up that challenge.  It held that compelling ENE could be distinguished from the circumstances addressed by Halsey, and it therefore did not need to enter into the question raised in Wright as to what Halsey determined and the extent to which it remains good law. The court limited itself in this regard to a comment that “the court’s engagement with mediation has progressed significantly since Halsey was decided”.

The court’s decision here was clearly driven by its view of the value of ENE as a process, as demonstrated particularly by its successful use in the Family Division. However, the grounds on which the court was prepared to distinguish Halsey in order to compel ENE arguably suggest an openness to moving away from a wholesale prohibition on compelling ADR, and to open the door further to a full reconsideration of Halsey.

As we have previously commented, the extent to which such a development would be welcome would depend on the degree to which it took into account the vast differences in the types of cases dealt with across the civil litigation landscape.  What measures may be appropriate to encourage a greater use of ADR will depend on a range of factors which differ across the broad range of claim types, not least of which includes the litigants’ level of familiarity with litigation and ADR processes (“ADR reform: One size does not fit all“).

Background

The context for the decision was an application by a widow under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975.  The claimant sought an ENE hearing, which the defendant opposed on the basis that it considered mediation to be the preferable ADR option in the circumstances.  Although the trial judge considered that the case “cries … out for a robust judge-led process”, she concluded that the court did not have the power to order an ENE hearing in the absence of all parties’ consent to the process.

Decision

The court’s decision was given by Lord Justice Moylan, with Lord Justice McCombe and Lady Justice Rose agreeing.

The court approached the issue principally by reference to CPR 3.1(2)(m).  Rule 3.1 contains the court’s general case management powers and sets out a list of powers which are in addition to any other powers the court might have. The list includes, at paragraph 2(m), a catch-all provision specifying that the court may “take any other step or make any other order for the purpose of managing the case and furthering the overriding objective, including hearing an Early Neutral Evaluation with the aim of helping the parties settle the case”. The reference to ENE was added in October 2015 and was broadly understood to have been prompted by the decision in Seals and Seals v Williams [2015] EWHC 1829 in which Norris J concluded that the court had power to order an ENE despite there being no reference to such power in the rules.  In that case, the parties had consented to the ENE process.

The claimant argued that there was nothing in the wording of the provision or in principle to justify reading it as though it was dependant on the parties’ agreement.  It also noted that, up until recently, commentary in the White Book stated that the power to order an ENE “is not constrained by the need to secure party consent” (this was deleted and the current version does not address the question of party consent).

Unsurprisingly, the defendant relied heavily upon Halsey. It argued that that authority applied to all forms of ADR, was still good law, and therefore precluded the court from interpreting the rules in such a way as would allow the court to order any form of ADR over a party’s objection. It also noted that each of the Commercial Court Guide, the Technology and Construction Court Guide and the Chancery Guide includes statements to the effect that party consent is a prerequisite to the ordering of ENE.

The court concluded that there was no reason to imply into CPR 3.1(2)(m) any limitation on the court’s power to order an ENE hearing in the absence of the parties’ consent. In particular:

  • In relation to the Court Guides, the court confirmed that, whilst they can assist in particular where there is ambiguity, the effect of rules and directions cannot be suspended or disapplied by what may be said in such guides.  Similarly,  commentary in the White Book (or the deletion of such commentary) is not determinative as to the proper interpretation of the rules.
  • As to Halsey, the court stated:

“I do not consider that Halsey v Milton Keynes assists with the proper interpretation of subparagraph (m) because it was dealing with a very different situation. It was concerned with whether a court can oblige parties ‘to submit their disputes to mediation’. It does not, therefore, in my view assist with the interpretation of subparagraph (m), which is dealing with an ENE hearing as part of the court process.”

The court went on to note that, in any event, ENE does not prevent the parties from having their disputes determined by the court if they do not settle their dispute at or following an ENE hearing and concluded that the process therefore does not obstruct a party’s access to the court. Insofar as it includes an additional step in the process, the court did not consider this in any sense an “unacceptable constraint” of the type disapproved of in Halsey.

It is not clear on what basis the court considered this position distinguishable from mediation, following which the parties can similarly commence or continue court proceedings if no settlement was reached.

It is also not clear whether the court intended to suggest that the prohibition in Halsey was limited to mediation. Such a distinction would be difficult to justify given that the judgments in Halsey refer on several occasions to “ADR” generally when expressing the prohibition. The court in the present case does not appear to have taken issue with the defendant’s submission that ENE is a form of ADR (within the glossary definition in the White Book).

  • On the issue of ENE more generally, the court was clearly heavily influenced by its use in financial remedy cases in the Family Division since 1996 (in the form of Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) appointments).  The court agreed with the trial judge’s observation that that process had been “outstandingly successful”.  Further, it observed that those benefits frequently extended to cases where the parties were resistant or even hostile to the suggestion of resolving the dispute by agreement and resistant to the listing of an FDR.  The court referred here with approval to the observations of Norris J in Bradley v Heslin [2014] EWHC 3267 (Ch) in the context of boundary disputes:

“I think it is no longer enough to leave the parties the opportunity to mediate and to warn of costs consequences if the opportunity is not taken. In boundary and neighbour disputes the opportunities are not being taken and the warnings are not being heeded, and those embroiled in them need saving from themselves.”

Given the trial judge’s clear view that ENE was appropriate in this case, the court directed that such a hearing take place.

Jan O'Neill
Jan O'Neill
Professional Support Lawyer, London
+44 20 7466 2202

 

 

UK: Civil Justice Council report on ADR calls for review of Halsey guidelines but stops short of recommending mandatory mediation

Jan O’Neill
Professional Support Lawyer, London

 

The Civil Justice Council’s ADR working group has released its final report on ADR and Civil Justice, following consultation on its interim report released last year. The broad mandate of the review was “to maintain the search for the right relationship between civil justice and ADR” and to promote debate over possible reforms.

The report includes various recommendations aimed at improving the awareness of ADR (both in the general public and in the professions/judiciary) and the availability of ADR (both in terms of funding/logistics and regulation of the professionals involved).

However the recommendations likely to be of most interest to users of the civil justice system in the short term are those that relate to Court/Government encouragement of ADR.  In this regard:

  • The report does not support blanket compulsion of ADR in the sense of requiring proof of ADR activity as an administrative precondition to any particular step in the litigation.
  • It also rejects the introduction of mandatory Mediation Information and Advice Meetings (as used in the family courts) as a precondition to pursuing civil claims.

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Article published – ADR reform: one size does not fit all

On 6 March, the Civil Justice Council held a workshop to discuss the recommendations made in its interim report on ADR, which was subject to consultation late last year. The interim report addresses concerns regarding a perceived underuse of ADR within some sections of the civil justice system and suggests a variety of possible corrective measures. The proposals include a power for the court to determine whether costs sanctions should be imposed for unreasonable conduct relating to ADR (such as an unreasonable refusal to mediate) not only at the end of a case, as currently, but during the matter when the decisions regarding ADR are taken.

Jan O’Neill has published a post on Practical Law’s Dispute Resolution blog in which she questions how realistic the suggestion of “midstream” assessment of parties’ conduct relating to ADR would be in practice. She suggests that many of the concerns expressed in the report as to the underuse of ADR are not relevant to many larger, complex claims, and urges the working group to tailor any final recommendations to the specific courts or dispute types for which the evidence suggests they are needed and practicable.

Click here to read the post (or here for the Practical Law Dispute Resolution blog homepage).

 

 

CJEU holds that mandatory mediation is not inherently precluded by EU law

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has concluded that national legislation imposing mandatory mediation as a pre-condition to litigation is not precluded by the EU ADR legislative framework, provided that the parties are not prevented from exercising their rights of access to the judicial system.  

However, to the extent that such a pre-condition required consumers to be assisted by a lawyer in the mediation process, or penalised them for withdrawing from the mediation without good grounds, it would be contrary to the Consumer ADR Directive (2013/11/EU):  Menini and another v Banco Popolare Società Cooperativa (Case C-75/16) (14 June 2017).  

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Advocate General Opinion on the Consumer ADR Directive and compulsory mediation

In a case referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) by the Italian courts, an Advocate General opinion has been issued which considers the scope of the Consumer ADR Directive, including whether it precludes national legislation from imposing mandatory mediation as a pre-condition to litigation:  Menini and another v Banco Popolare Società Cooperativa (Case C-75/16). 

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ADR for financial disputes: Proposals to significantly enhance the Hong Kong Financial Dispute Resolution Scheme

The Hong Kong Financial Dispute Resolution Centre (FDRC), which since June 2012 has been providing ADR services to financial institutions and their individual customers in Hong Kong, has recently launched a consultation to significantly enhance the Financial Dispute Resolution Scheme (FDRS) administed by it. The FDRS provides a channel for the resolution of monetary disputes by way of “mediation first, arbitration next”.

The proposals mean that the FDRC’s jurisdiction is likely to be significantly increased, bringing the Hong Kong scheme more into line with financial dispute resolution schemes in other jurisdictions and permitting a greater number of monetary disputes to be handled by the FDRC rather than (or as well as) the courts. 

Read more detail from our Hong Kong office here.

 

Herbert Smith Freehills launches latest Guide to Dispute Resolution in Asia Pacific

Dispute Resolution in AP

Please click here to preview this publication.  To request a copy of the guide, please email asia.publications@hsf.com.


Our updated Guide to Dispute Resolution in Asia Pacific aims to provide answers to some of the basic questions a party unfamiliar with a particular jurisdiction will wish to ask when facing the prospect of having to engage in a dispute resolution process in that jurisdiction (including at the stage of negotiating contracts, when deciding on the choice of law and whether to include jurisdiction or arbitration clauses in favour of a particular jurisdiction).

Amongst the range of topics addressed in the Guide, we asked local counsel whether parties to litigation or arbitration are required to consider or submit to ADR procedures before or during proceedings. We will feature the responses of the various jurisdictions in upcoming posts and cover our first five jurisdictions (Australia, Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong and India) below. 

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English Court of Appeal suggests a rethink of the prohibition on court-ordered compulsory mediation

In a withering attack on what he terms “the emasculation of legal aid” and the inevitable increase in unrepresented litigants in the English courts, Lord Justice Ward in the Court of Appeal has suggested that it may be time to review the rule in Halsey v Milton Keynes General NHS Trust [2004] EWCA Civ 576 prohibiting a court from ordering unwilling parties to refer their dispute to mediation. In this regard, the Court of Appeal addressed the power of the courts to order a stay for mediation to be attempted other than at the allocation stage under CPR 26.4(2)(b):  Wright v. Wright [2013] EWCA CIV 234 Court of Appeal 27 March 2013

Background

The case concerned a dispute between two unrepresented litigants, formerly successful business partners, who had fallen out and were pursuing litigation with a vengeance.  Despite being, in Ward LJ’s words, “intelligent and not unsuccessful businessmen”, the parties steadfastly refused to mediate despite the continued encouragement of the trial judge, which resulted in a disproportionately expensive trial and appeal process.  The appeal itself concerned an alleged procedural error by the trial judge in not acceding to a request by one party to adduce oral evidence, an error which Ward LJ considered may well have arisen, in part at least, as a result of the “chaos which litigants in person inevitably – and wholly understandably – manage to create” in such cases. 

Mediation

The rule against court-ordered mediation was set out by Dyson LJ and Ward LJ himself in Halsey in the following terms:

“It seems to us that to oblige truly unwilling parties to refer their disputes to mediation would be to impose an unacceptable obstruction on their right of access to the court.”

Delivering his judgment in Wright, Ward LJ noted that in Halsey he had been persuaded by the argument that to order parties to mediate would fall foul of the right to a fair trial enshrined in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  In Wright, Ward LJ suggests that he may have been wrong to decide this point as he did in Halsey and rhetorically questions whether forcing the parties to go through an additional step before gaining access to court would in fact be an “unacceptable obstruction”.  Whilst he declines to answer this question, since the point was not before the court in Wright, he suggests that a “bold judge” may wish to accede to an invitation to rule on this question, in order that the Court of Appeal may revisit this aspect of Halsey in the light of developments in mediation practice over the last decade. Ward LJ also suggests in Wright that CPR 26.4(2)(b) (which allows a court at the allocation stage to stay proceedings of its own initiative in order for the parties to attempt ADR), might permit the court at any time to direct a stay for mediation to be attempted with the warning of adverse cost consequences for unreasonably refusing to attempt ADR.

Comment

The recent reduction in legal aid funding may on its face have saved expenditure in one area, but this has, in Ward LJ’s view, simply increased the costs and expense of court proceedings, both at the trial and appellate stages.  Aside from the “inevitable chaos” of a case involving unrepresented litigants (Ward LJ refers to the requirement on judges to “micro-manage” such cases and praises Judge Anthony Thornton QC in this case for his “manful, patient, polite, careful and conscientious” efforts in this regard) he considers that Wright also highlights the impossibility of shifting litigants off the trial track and onto the parallel track of mediation, a situation which he describes as “depressing”. This is particularly so since he considers mediation to be a proper alternative to be “tried and exhausted” before finally resorting to trial, especially in cases such as this where mediation is an obvious way to move forward before parties “cripple themselves with debt”.

Ward LJ’s comments, whilst persuasive, are obiter and it therefore remains to be seen whether a suitable case and a “bold judge” emerge to tackle this issue head on, as he hopes.  If this aspect of Halsey is overruled, it will be interesting to see how this will affect both the take up of mediation and its success rate. It seems likely that legislation (either adapting CPR 26.4(2)(b) or a new provision entirely) would be desirable to put matters on a clear setting. In any event, forcing a party to mediate is one thing, forcing them to settle is a different matter entirely and is fraught with theoretical and practical difficulties even in cases which are overwhelmingly ripe for mediation.  It is well established that the success of mediation often rests in large part on the parties’ willingness to engage in the process, and as Ward LJ himself acknowledged, “you may be able to drag the horse (a mule offers a better metaphor) to water, but you cannot force the wretched animal to drink if it stubbornly resists.” The increase in court-annexed mediation pilots in England & Wales (for example in relation to small claims and certain appeals) should be monitored closely and their success analysed in this regard.

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Australia: at what stage is it appropriate for the court to refer cases to ADR?

The types of disputes that are amenable to ADR are of course not unlimited. Judges continue to encourage parties to submit a very wide range of disputes to ADR. However, recent case law, and commentary by the Honourable Chief Justice Bathurst, suggest that the courts are also looking at the appropriateness of ADR. This will be gauged not only by the nature of the dispute, but also the level of public interest in the dispute. Michael Mills and Lauren Whitehead in our Sydney office give their views. Continue reading

ECJ issues its opinion in support of Italian mandatory mediation rules

The implementation of new domestic Italian legislation requires parties to engage in mediation as a pre-condition to accessing the Italian courts in many types of disputes. The new legislation coincided with the requirements outlined in the Mediation Directive and was aimed at reducing some of the backlog of over 5 million cases pending in Italy.On 18 March 2010, in the joined cases of Rosalba Alassini and Others (C-317/08 and C-320/08) the ECJ confirmed an opinion previously given by the Advocate General, that requiring a dispute to be subject to an out of court settlement procedure before being heard in court was not precluded by EU law. Continue reading