PI groups slam forced mediation

PERSONAL injury lawyers have urged the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine to hold off from making mediation compulsory for PI cases.

At a joint conference of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (Apil) and the Forum of Insurance Lawyers (Foil) last week, delegates lined up to warn the Government not to give in to the temptation to force PI litigants to consider mediation before going to court.

Although the Government has not yet announced such plans, mediation will be compulsory in legally aided divorce cases from next year and is being encouraged in other areas of law.

Ian Walker, president of Apil, told the conference that most personal injury lawyers were against the concept of imposed mediation.

But he said there was also a lot of “prejudice and ignorance” about mediation.

Delegates claimed insurance companies were often reluctant to attend mediation sessions or arrived without relevant documents, whereas the “corridor of the court” concentrated the minds of both parties. Delegates also argued that mediation could be expensive or may not suit complicated cases, such as medical negligence cases, although cases could be divided into areas appropriate for mediation and those appropriate for the courts.

A spokesman for the Central London County Court, where a pilot scheme offering mediation at #25 has been running since May 1996, said only seven PI cases out of 150 used the scheme.

At the conference, Apil and Foil unveiled plans to hold training courses on mediation and alternative dispute resolution. Foil chairman Martin Staples said: “We want to open discussion on mediation to see if we can sort out our views on it before it is imposed.”

The conference was held to help plaintiff and defence solicitors find new ways of working together during a time of major change to the civil justice system.

The two groups also decided to set up a directory of organisations able to offer rehabilitation services for accident victims.

Master Robert Turner, senior master in the High Court Queen's Bench division, congratulated both groups for uniting to tackle civil justice issues. “It was unheard of in my day that plaintiff and defendant lawyers even sit down together,” he said.

Irwin Mitchell last month challenged before the Legal Aid Board (LAB) Costs Appeal Committee the LAB's policy of refusing to fund mediation. The case is due to be decided by the costs panel committee on 26 October.