What is an Alternative Dispute Resolution?

9 June 2023
In a civil litigation case (i.e. a non-criminal dispute between two parties), ‘alternative dispute resolution’ (ADR) is a process that provides parties with a means of resolution without involving the traditional court system.
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It’s a more cost-effective and less time consuming way of resolving disputes than traditional litigation and can be used in a wide range of cases, such as family law matters, personal injury cases, or commercial disputes, to name but a few. Sometimes ADR schemes are used to narrow down the problem before going to court.

Types of Alternative Dispute Resolution

In the UK, there are four main types of ADR, as explored below:


Negotiation is the most straightforward option, as long as both parties are amicable. It is essentially an opportunity for the parties involved to reach a mutually acceptable resolution without the involvement of anyone else. This is usually used when the parties have a good relationship and are willing to cooperate. It’s often overlooked because of how obvious it is, but there's no guarantee of resolution and no expert third party opinion.

This is when a neutral third party (known as the mediator) helps the parties to discuss the issues and identify their interests in order to meet a mutually acceptable resolution. Often, the court will insist that mediation is explored before taking the case to a judge. This is common in family law cases. The mediator does not make any decisions but is simply there to help the parties reach an agreement. The court will need to enforce any decisions made in order to make them legally binding. Legal aid may be available to help with some of the costs of mediation for those who cannot afford it. 

Again, this involves a third party (the arbitrator) who is neutral to the case and usually a specialist within the field where the dispute arises. They will hear evidence from both sides before making a binding decision which cannot be appealed, and a judge will not address “unfair” outcomes. In other words, the case will not be taken to court if either party don’t agree with the outcome. This process is often used in commercial disputes. In extreme cases, it can take longer than litigation.

This may involve a judge who can provide suggestions or develop proposals to help the parties come to an agreement, but it's a way to resolve a legal dispute without going to trial. Again, this is not legally binding and certain parties may not take the process seriously.

Pros of Alternative Dispute Resolution

As well as being a quicker, less stressful, and more financially viable option that maintains privacy, ADR is als often less hostile than traditional litigation. This is because both parties are encouraged to work together to reach a solution, making it a more cooperative process. In cases such as separating parents attempting to make arrangements for their children, or business disputes where two parties must maintain a relationship, the collaboration is particularly beneficial. What’s more, ADR allows all parties to maintain more control and have more say over the outcome, whereas in court the judge or jury will make the final decision.

Cons of Alternative Dispute Resolution

ADR is not suitable for all cases, particularly where there is a significant power imbalance between two parties, such as in cases of domestic violence or employment disputes. Oftentimes, in ADR, the outcome is not as predictable because decisions are made by a neutral third party, which may be considered another drawback.

Alternative dispute resolution is a flexible option but it may not be appropriate for all types of disputes. For those who want to resolve an issue with minimum expense in an amicable manner, it can be a useful option, but in cases where ADR is ineffective, the dispute will need to be taken to court. A civil litigation solicitor should be appointed to assist with this process. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like to speak to our specialists.