Alternative Dispute Resolution (Vic)
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) refers to non-court processes available to help people and organisations resolve a dispute without court action. It can be used in most types of disputes. This article outlines the main ADR options in Victoria.
ADR provides for early resolution of new disputes and faster resolution of long disputes. It allows parties to avoid the expense, time and stress of court proceedings, and allows parties to develop a mutually acceptable outcome.
Other benefits include privacy of discussions, greater flexibility in negotiations, and a greater range of possible solutions than would be available via court proceedings. Also, dispute resolution methods can be incorporated in agreements before disputes arise, so any problem that may develop can be solved quickly and at a lower cost.
This involves an independent mediator helping the parties to solve the dispute by facilitating an agreement between them. It is conducted “without prejudice”, meaning nothing raised in mediation can be used in a later trial without consent. If the mediator agrees, a party can present a lawyer and experts.
If an agreement is reached, the mediator has parties document the agreement and sign it. The mediator gives each party a copy and files a copy with a court registrar. The mediated agreement can be enforced if it has been documented and signed by both parties and either party applies for an order to enforce it.
If an agreement is not reached, the case can go to trial. The failure to reach agreement cannot be used by either party as evidence. The successful party may be able to recover the costs of ADR.
Conciliation is similar to mediation in that a neutral person helps parties reach an agreement. However, a conciliator is usually an expert on the subject of the dispute and may help advise on the content of the dispute but not determine a result. Some courts and tribunals can order parties to attempt conciliation before going to trial.
Facilitation is similar to mediation in that a neutral person helps parties reach an agreement. However, facilitation is usually used for groups in conflict, such as in planning or body corporate disputes, because it can be used as a forum to express differing viewpoints in reaching an agreement.
Arbitration is a formal process where parties to a dispute choose an independent arbitrator to make a decision. Parties can agree to arbitration but often one party applies and the other party is required to take part. Arbitration is sometimes used when other ADR methods have not worked but is often used in industrial relations disputes or contractual disputes between businesses.
In some jurisdictions the decision is binding and in others, such as in family law and property matters, a party will need to file the arbitrator’s decision with a court for it to be binding.
This process has parties present their arguments and evidence to a dispute resolution practitioner. The practitioner is chosen on the basis of their specialist qualification or experience in the subject of the dispute. Unlike conciliation however, the practitioner makes a determination. The determination is usually enforceable through a court.
This involves all parties and their lawyers signing an agreement to reach a settlement without resorting to litigation. This puts the focus on achieving a negotiated settlement.
Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)
VCAT uses a range of ADR methods to help resolve disputes. It can decide to refer a case to ADR on its own initiative or at the request of a party, and decide the type of ADR to be used. It will consider factors including the nature of the dispute and the amount claimed, the stage of the dispute, and the relationship between the parties to the dispute.
VCAT’s ADR methods include a compulsory conference, conducted by a tribunal member, which involves private discussions designed to identify the issues in dispute and promote settlement. If agreement is reached, the member can make orders to adjourn or dispose of the case. If agreement is not reached, the member can direct the parties on how to prepare the case for a hearing.
Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria (DSCV)
DSCV provides free dispute resolution services across the state, as well as training for mediators to national standards. Its purpose is to prevent and resolve disputes while relieving pressure on courts.
Accident Compensation Conciliation Service (ACCS)
ACCS helps resolve workers compensation disputes between workers and employers. It involves all parties, including insurers and Victorian WorkCover Authority Agents, in a process that is designed to be fair, informal, fast and economical.
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