Alternative Dispute Resolution, abbreviated to ADR, is a collective term used for techniques that deal with disputes without going to court. Mediation is a process that falls into the category of ADR.

Mediation

A method of settling disputes in which a neutral, specially trained (legal or non-legal) ‘mediator’ enables the parties to come to their own agreement, one which each considers acceptable.  It is a ‘without prejudice’ meeting. Mediation can be ‘evaluative’ with the mediator giving assessment the legal strength of the case, or ‘facilitative’, where the mediator concentrates on assisting parties to define the issue from their own standpoint.  When a mediation is successful and an agreement is reached, it is written down, signed by the parties and forms a legally binding contract, unless the parties state otherwise.

Arbitration

A procedure whereby both sides in a dispute agree to let a third party, ‘the arbitrator’, decide.  The arbitrator may be a lawyer, or may be an expert in the field of the dispute.  The arbitrator will make a decision according to the law.  The decision is known as ‘the award’, is legally binding and can be enforced through the courts. Family solicitors and barristers may now train as family arbitrators.

Early Neutral Evaluation/ Early Judicial Evaluation

A process in which a neutral professional, commonly a lawyer/ judge, hears a summary of each party’s case and gives a non-binding assessment of the merits.  This can then be used as a basis for settlement or for further negotiation.

Expert Determination

A process where an independent third party who is an expert in the subject matter is appointed to decide the dispute.  The decision is binding on both parties.

Conciliation

A procedure akin to mediation, but where the conciliator takes a more interventionist role in bringing the parties together-suggesting possible solutions.  This process is gradually falling into disuse as mediation grows in popularity.

Med-Arb

A combination of mediation and arbitration where the parties agree to mediate but if that fails to achieve a settlement the dispute is referred to arbitration. The same person may act as mediator and arbitrator.

Neutral fact-finding

This is a non-binding procedure used in cases involving complex technical issues. A neutral expert in the subject matter is appointed to investigate the facts of the dispute and make an evaluation on the merits of the case.  This can form the basis of a settlement or a starting point for further negotiation.

Ombudsmen

Ombudsmen, (sometimes called ombuds) are independent office holders who investigate and rule on complaints from members of the public about maladministration in Government and in particular in services in both the public and private sectors.  Some ombudsmen use mediation as part of the dispute resolution procedures.  The powers of ombudsmen vary.  Most ombudsmen are able to make recommendations, only a few can make decisions which are enforceable through the courts.

Utility Regulators

Watchdogs appointed to oversee the privatised utilities such as water and gas.  They handle complaints from customers who are dissatisfied by the way a complaint has been dealt with by the supplier.