In a move intended to speed up settlements and free up court capacity, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has announced the expansion of the free Small Claims Mediation Service operated by His Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS).
The reforms, which will initially relate to specified money claims, will see a large proportion of small civil claims valued at up to £10,000 being referred automatically. It is estimated that around 180,000 parties will be required to participate in an hour-long telephone appointment with a professional mediator before their case can be progressed to a hearing. The scheme will use a shuttle technique which enables the parties to speak to the mediator individually, making the process less adversarial.
In order to provide this service the Small Claims Mediation Service is to be expanded by recruiting and training additional mediators and adapting the process to optimise the user experience. The MOJ anticipates that this increased use of mediation could have a positive impact on up to 92,000 cases each year freeing up 5,000 sitting days, boosting court capacity and reducing waiting times for more complex cases.
The initial roll out will not include personal injury or unspecified money claims, although the stated intention is that, at a later date, the mediation process will be expanded to cover all small claims issued under the standard Part 7 procedure including "housing conditions and personal injury claims allocated to the small claims track." Whilst outside of the immediate scope of this consultation, the MOJ states its intention to extend mandatory mediation to higher value claims (up to £100,000 in value) in the fullness of time, using suitable external mediators. While personal injury claims will not initially come within the mediation scheme, "bent metal" and hire claims, together with property damages claims will be captured resulting in a significant change to the claims handling process in these areas.
Parties will be referred to mediation post filing of a Directions Questionnaire. Further, there will be sanctions for non-attendance; either by way of strike out or cost orders.
The Government has indicated that implementation details and timings will be announced in the coming months, but specific timescales are hard to predict. The necessary amendments to the Civil Procedure Rules will need to be considered by the Civil Procedure Rules Committee (CPRC) in the usual manner. We anticipate the earliest possible date would be April 2024.
We do not expect that any such changes will apply retrospectively to cases already issued which could prompt a spike in litigation.
A further alert will follow when more details are available.
To discuss the proposals please contact Emma Fuller, Pete Allchorne, Andrew Parker or Jo Folan.