Q: I have a business dispute which needs resolved. I have heard there are a number of different ways to go about it. What are the options?
Michael McCord, head of commercial litigation at Tughans Solicitors
A: It really depends on the nature of the dispute.
The most familiar method of dispute resolution is through the courts. The procedure here is relatively technical and you will need lawyers to represent you in order to manage the process most efficiently. Different courts deal with different types of claim. But at the end of the day you will get a public hearing before a judge is assigned to your case and, subject to any appeal, the decision of that judge will be binding.
Mediation is an alternative method of dispute resolution which has become ever more popular in recent years. It is a good option where the parties want to retain control. In mediation you do not hand over control of the dispute to a third party. It is a consensual process where an independent trained mediator is engaged by the parties to help them resolve their dispute. It can also produce a result much more quickly and cheaply than the courts.
Other dispute resolution methods are arbitration and adjudication. Arbitration can only occur by agreement. However very often commercial contracts will contain arbitration clauses in them whereby the parties have agreed at the outset to resolve any differences which arise between them through arbitration. However when it comes to it arbitration is not really very much different from litigation in terms of its procedure. The main difference is the proceedings are conducted in private which keeps them confidential, and there is a fee to pay to the arbitrator.
Adjudication is applicable only to construction contracts. It is not therefore of universal application. However for the construction industry it's an excellent dispute resolution tool which is cheaper and quicker than litigation or arbitration.
It really is a matter of horses for courses which option to choose. Often the best approach is to run two options in tandem i.e. start formal legal or arbitration proceedings so the ball here is rolling but at the same time remain open to a resolution through mediation.