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Title: To court or not to court - mediation?

Date: 06 August 2015

Question

After 4 years of stressful legal action resulting from my run in with a tractor we at last have a trial date for this November. My legal team is recommending I agree to the Defendant’s lawyer’s offer of a mediation meeting to try and settle my case before trial. I want my time in court so the farmer realises just how much his stupidity has affected me. I want the court to officially hold him to blame. The problem is my solicitors say that I could be made to pay legal fees if I don’t agree to this meeting. Is this correct or can I just insist on the trial taking place?

Graham Sullivan, Teeside

Answer

Over the last few years the courts have been very keen to encourage parties to try and settle claims by way of alternative dispute resolution. This can take the form of formal mediation (with an independent mediator present to try to assist settlement between the parties) or a more informal joint settlement meeting arrangement where the parties and the legal representatives turn up to discuss their differences and hopefully reach a settlement satisfactory to all. The benefit of such meetings is that they remove the risk of going to trial (losing or doing worse that you may do through a negotiated settlement), they are much cheaper than going to court and they free up the courts for other actions unsuitable for mediation.

Lawyers are required to confirm to the court that they have explained mediation options to their clients. The court can impose costs sanctions on parties if they unreasonably refuse to mediate. It would be rare for me not to advise giving a settlement meeting a try and I would follow the advice of your lawyers – if the talks break down then at least you attempted settlement and then the trial will go ahead in any event. That way you don’t run the risk of a costs order against you for unreasonable conduct. Whilst I appreciate you want your day in court I suggest you agree to the meeting.

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