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Research into a mediation scheme at Central London County Court has found solicitors to be generally unenthusiastic, frequently apprehensive and occasionally positively hostile to mediation.
The scheme, which began in May 1996, offers parties the chance to resolve disputes through mediation for a nominal fee of £25 per party.
By March 1998 offers of mediation had been sent out by court in about 4,500 cases, and 160 cases had been mediated.
But the study, commissioned by the Lord Chancellor's Department, found that despite repeated efforts to raise awareness of the mediation scheme, the rate at which parties accepted the offers of mediation remained fixed at about 5 per cent overall, with 62 per cent of those mediations reaching settlement. In another 15 per cent of cases, only one party accepted the mediation offer, ruling it out as an option.
Of those whose cases settled at mediation, most believed that it had saved time on the dispute. But although the objectives in attending mediations were to save time and costs and to settle the case, only half of plaintiffs believed that they had saved on costs.
The study also found that few parties or solicitors had prior experience of mediation or knew about the process. But having gone through it, almost half of all parties said that they would use mediation again, and 36 per cent said they would probably use mediation again if faced with a similar dispute. Telephone interviews with lawyers who rejected mediation showed that many thought it most appropriate for litigants in person, and that they preferred to depend on known litigation strategies rather than experimenting.
His Honour Judge Butter, who had responsibility the scheme, said: "The overwhelming majority of those who have taken part in this scheme so far have spoken enthusiastically about the benefits of mediation. The process is quick and informal and it allows the parties to meet and see each other's point of view. Most cases settle as a result of mediation, either on the day or soon afterwards."