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What alternatives to court are there?

Until recently, if you had a legal problem, you would normally have to go to court or a tribunal in what is often called ‘litigation’. This is still a common way of sorting out such problems. But going to court can be expensive and off-putting.

Now there are alternative ways of sorting out disputes caused by breakdowns in relationships, complaints and legal problems. Together they are often called ‘alternative dispute resolution’ (ADR) and include things like arbitration, mediation and ombudsmen schemes. With most types of problem, courts encourage people to consider these sorts of schemes first before they use litigation.

This leaflet explains how the different schemes work, and when you can use them. If you have a problem, you need to read this leaflet alongside one of the other Community Legal Advice leaflets in this series, which look in more detail at different types of problem. See the back over of this leaflet for a list of all the leaflets in this series.

Why use an alternative dispute resolution scheme instead of going to court?

ADR schemes are not meant to replace the courts in all cases. But they can have advantages over going to court. These advantages include:

  • being more flexible;
  • solving your problem faster;
  • being less stressful; and
  • costing you less money.

If you have a problem with a person or organisation you deal with regularly (a neighbour, for example), ADR can lead to a better, longer-lasting solution to your problem. It may also lead to better communication with them in the future.

You can use some ADR schemes as well as going to court or a tribunal. For example, mediation can help everyone focus on the issues that are causing the problem, making it easier for you to reach an agreement or for a judge to make a decision.

Remember that either side in a disagreement can suggest using an ADR scheme to solve the problem.

Court rules also now say that you must think about whether some form of ADR would be a better way to reach an agreement before you go to court. If you refuse without good reason to try ADR before going to court, you may not get your court costs back, even if you win your case.

Additional sections in the Community Legal Advice ‘Alternatives to Court’ leaflet:

1. What alternatives to court are there?

2. Do I need a lawyer?

3. Mediation

4. Adjudication & arbitration

5. Grievance & complaints procedure

6. Litigation

7. Negotiation

8. Ombudsman

9. Costs

10. Dispute resolution services

11. Further help

12. About this Leaflet

This content is subject to Crown Copyright

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Community Legal Advice
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