The government has launched a call for evidence on Dispute Resolution to inform future policy interventions. 

It is difficult to tell whether the new push for reform is borne out of court backlogs exacerbated by the pandemic and a desperate need to reduce the pressure on court resources (probably), or a genuine desire to maximise the chances of early consensual resolution and modernise the process (possibly). But so what? Any push towards cost-effective and timely settlement between parties to a dispute must be applauded. 

Having higher rights of audience and working in contentious tax, I have seen disputes rumble on for years. 'Traditional' litigation can be an unwelcome, lengthy and costly distraction to business. By contrast, as a CEDR accredited mediator, I have seen how 'alternative' methods can establish common ground between the parties privately, relatively cost-effectively and certainly more cheaply.

We need to redefine 'alternative' methods of dispute resolution as being the new normal - or at the very least, a starting point. Even if such methods fail, the issues in dispute can often be narrowed substantially and the parties' minds focused on what really matters to them - their underlying interests as well as the financial aspects of money claims - limiting the scope of any subsequent litigation and making the process run more smoothly. 

As well as dropping the label of 'alternative' dispute resolution, let's stop thinking of mediation as a 'soft' option. No party in the early stage of any dispute wants to think about 'compromise' ahead of 'winning'. However, if mediation were a required first (and hopefully only) step in the process, it would not take long for realisation to dawn that a significant cost-saving, freeing-up of management time, retention of privacy, and ability to move forward positively, is 'winning'. 

There will always be a place for high value and complex litigation but I welcome the less adversarial options, and urge my mediator colleagues to respond to the call for evidence before the 30 September 2021 deadline.