In January 2021, Sir Geoffrey Vos had just been appointed to his new role as Master of the Rolls and Head of Civil Justice. Being interviewed by the then President of the Law Society of England and Wales, David Greene, he was asked about his plans for the future of civil justice. His answer was that he hoped to set the direction of travel for the reform of civil justice for the immediate future to enable civil justice to retain its relevance for UK citizens. On the evening of 29th July 2021, we learned from Lady Justice Asplin that the direction of travel leads to, as she put it, a Spaghetti Junction of choices.
The occasion was the first in-person seminar of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators’ (CIArb) London Branch for 17 months. Holding such an event in person was a characteristically bold statement of confidence by London CIArb about the future not only of London Branch but about the civil justice community too.
Appropriately, for an event discussing the future of civil justice and ADR, it took place at the impressive new home of the International Dispute Resolution Centre (IDRC). IDRC’s CEO, Damian Hickman, showed me that IDRC was soon to be home to a galaxy of stellar ADR Service Providers including CEDR, the London Maritime Arbitrators Association and the recently formed Arbitra, amongst others (head over to www.idrc.co.uk if you want to learn more or arrange a tour of the splendid facilities with Damian and team).
The event was delivered in hybrid form, with 70 plus people joining the 70-odd gathered at the IDRC in-person. Some of the lessons taught by this pandemic are worth remembering. Many more people were able to engage with the issues than would otherwise be the case whether because of distance or childcare or other commitments. This is a real gain from the terrible experience of surviving lockdown.
Gill Mansfield FCIArb and Andrew Davis FCIArb (two of the Leading lights of the London Branch of CIArb) developed this event with Gill deftly chairing the panel of speakers and Andrew adroitly managing the live stream and ably winding up proceedings.
The eminent panellists were Lady Justice Asplin (who chairs the increasingly influential Judicial ADR Liaison Committee and co-authored the Civil Justice Council’s catchily titled report, Compulsory ADR), joined by Janet Andrewartha and Jon Lang (both pre-eminent in the field)
The issues Report occupied much of the seminar, with the key take-aways being:
- Change is coming in the not-too-distant future;
- There is to be a Call for Evidence about the issues raised by these changes to be published shortly. Lady Justice Asplin urged everyone to contribute;
- ‘Horses for courses’ will be a touchstone for the introduction of compulsory ADR, sometimes ENE will be appropriate, in other circumstances mediation. Each situation is different hence the complexity of the challenge;
- Janet Andrewartha drew attention to the need to ensure the confidentiality of the process – key in ADR and needing against an increasingly complex background of judicial decisions;
- Jon Lang urged caution and the need to introduce regulation into what he saw as a wholly unregulated field. This might be safely navigated by the represented – but what of those who could not afford (or believed they did not need) representation?
Questions from the floor added to the numerous issues raised by the panel. This author asked whether funding would be found for the extra staff needed to act as mediators in the Small Claims Mediation Service, which the Report envisaged being expanded. Lady Justice Asplin explained that she simply did not know anything about funding. However, she reminded the audience that up to £3m had been found for the possession claims mediation pilot which, she thought, might suggest money could be found.
Kim Franklin QC drew attention to the success of adjudication in commercial construction disputes, which had been quasi-compulsory for the past 25 years, and a real success story.
Sir Geoffrey Vos turned 66 in April 2021. Recent holders of the office of Head of Civil Justice have had only a few, brief years to make their mark. Vos could hold office for another 10 years. The decisions being taken now and over the next decade will determine the shape of civil justice in England and Wales for the next 100 years. There are big changes coming and the course of true reform never did run smooth. We should expect one or two bumps in the road as we traverse Spaghetti Junction.
Tony Guise is the director of DisputesEfiling.com. He is also past president of the London Solicitors Litigation Association: disputesefiling.com...