The Ministry of Justice has given further details on how new money will be spent on mediation services in a bid to take 80,000 small claims cases out of the court system. However, lawyers have spoken out against the changes, saying that they will result in a denial of justice for many.
It is thought the bulk of the 80,000 claims will come from neighbourhood disputes and rows over unpaid debts. Under the plan, cases such as these will be directed towards a new telephone mediation service.
It is hoped this will resolve many, which should speed up the small claims courts and save money for those who avoid going to court.
The proposals will not mean that mediation becomes mandatory, and cases which remain unsettled will still proceed to trial.
The Government unveiled plans this week in response to a public consultation on improving court services for civil cases in England and Wales. There are 1.5m civil cases heard each year. Around 80% of the respondents in the consultation were in favour of telephone mediation services. The majority of the 20% against were either lawyers or judges.
The Ministry report accompanying the consultation's conclusions said: "Six out of the seven judicial responses were firmly against the proposals, with most of their comments focusing on the use of telephone hearings."
"The biggest concern amongst the judges was that telephone hearings would significantly reduce the judge's ability to control and observe the parties/witnesses properly during the hearing," it said.
The Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is fully behind the proposed changes.
"Without effective civil justice, businesses couldn't trade, individuals couldn't enforce their rights, and Government couldn't fulfil its duties," said Mr Clarke.
"But individuals and businesses tell me that the civil justice system at the moment can sometimes be intimidating and that they don't know if using the system will be worth the time, expense and hassle of going to court," he added.
Court mediation services use accredited mediators who speak to both parties over the telephone. It takes around four to six weeks to set up, compared to a 13 to 14-week wait for a court hearing. Existing mediation services, where offered, have satisfaction ratings of 95%.
Read more on the story (The Guardian)
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