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A quicker way to right the wrong?

Professional negligence rules and regulations have been amended this year, and claimants must now indicate whether they wish to refer the dispute to adjudication and, if not, they should give reasons.

There may be sanctions in costs for an unreasonable failure to engage in adjudication, similar to those applied where mediation is refused.

Parties have long been encouraged to try mediation as a method of resolving cases which are usually already subject to live court proceedings, but this commonly takes place once proceedings are underway and the parties have already incurred significant legal costs.

Adjudication is a way of resolving issues before proceedings have been issued and quickly. It’s not for every case, but one Chester law firm believes it will certainly have huge benefits to some claimants and professionals involved in negligence disputes.

Leanne Wheeler, partner at Manleys Solicitors in Chester, says: “The relaunched scheme now applies to claims against all professionals, except for medical professionals, and there is no cap on the value of the claims.

“If the claimant does refer the dispute to adjudication, they should propose three adjudicators and seek nomination from the nominating body - the Professional Negligence Bar Association.”

Adjudication is a procedure for resolving disputes without resorting to a lengthy and expensive court procedure. The idea is that the scheme will enable parties in a professional negligence dispute to obtain a quick decision at relatively low cost compared to hostile and costly litigation proceedings.

Leanne says: “Given the ongoing and substantial rises in court fees and perceived delays, many claimants will be considering their options for resolving issues and claims. We strongly believe that Alternative Dispute Resolution in all its forms presents real advantages to parties involved in disputes."

When people say ‘quicker than court proceedings’, can people get a feel on the length of time involved?

Leanne says: “The adjudicator provides a written and reasoned decision within 56 days of appointment, which will be binding unless altered by a court. There are tight timescales and a decision is reached relatively swiftly."

And what about costs? “The costs of the action/adjudication can be limited, included or excluded from the scope of the adjudication. But it is widely agreed that adjudication is truly cost-effective.

“The guidance on the adjudicators’ cost ceilings are £5,000 plus VAT for small cases and £10,000 for greater value cases. Obviously, unusual cases will mean that the ceilings may be exceeded. The lower fees mean that this is much more proportionate for lower value claims where the costs of proceedings are often prohibitive.

“Adjudicators should be chosen carefully and ideally with relevant expertise either in similar cases or in the sectors involved. All adjudicator decisions are enforceable by proceedings.

“The process is all about facilitating a decision in the common interest. There is flexibility for parties to be creative in the procedure and scope to suit a particular case. For example, adjudication could be used to determine certain issues leaving the parties to agree the final outcome. The adjudication process is intended to be confidential, unless the parties agree otherwise. However, the decision is not.”

Pictured: Leanne Wheeler of Manleys Solicitors

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