Nineteen years later, the Court of Appeal has re-visited the judgement made in Halsey v. Milton Keynes General NHS Trust  EWCA Civ 756 on the courts’ power to order compulsory non-court dispute resolution, issuing a landmark decision in recent case Churchill v Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council which will encourage the use of mediation and alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) as a way of solving conflicts.
The facts of this recent case are as follows. Mr Churchill brought a claim for £40,000 for damage to his property caused by a Japanese Knotweed growing from a neighbouring property owned by the Council. The Council argued that Mr Churchill should have utilised the Council’s internal complaint system before commencing court proceedings. At first instance the Court, drawing on the decision in Halsey, ruled that the court lacked the authority to stay the claim and force Mr Churchill into using the internal complaints system.
The Court of Appeal have since ruled, in a unanimous decision, that the Court does indeed possess the power to suspend proceedings and compel parties to take part in mediation or ADR, even if the parties do not wish to do so.
The decision in Halsey has previously been perceived as a barrier to mediation, suggesting that compelling parties to engage in alternative dispute resolution infringes on their right to court access. However, the Court of Appeal concluded that Lord Justice Dyson’s remarks were “not a necessary part of the reasoning that led to the decision” in Halsey and should not be seen as a ban on the courts’ power to compel ADR, a power which derives from the Civil Procedure Rules.
Although the judgement does not set out fixed principles to govern the exact situation in which the court can compel the parties to engage in ADR, it does grant the court sufficient discretion in deciding whether ADR may be appropriate in certain situations in order to facilitate fair, expeditious and cost-effective resolutions. This is a landmark decision that we envisage will result in the wider usage of ADR and in particular, mediation as an alternative to resolving conflict going forward.