This ambitious book by Professor Christopher Hodges reviews the numerous dispute resolution pathways that exist for the major types of disputes in England and Wales whether they concern consumers or SMEs, family matters, employment issues or complaints against the State. He provides a truly holistic overview of the current dispute resolution system. It finds that the present system is not working. There are too many barriers, as well as too many pathways, for real people and businesses to satisfactorily resolve disputes that arise in the course of doing business or going about their daily lives. The book proposes a series of reforms based on the following three policy questions:
- How do people identify and access information, advice, support and assistance in solving their problems? Quite a lot might be done here on increasing the coordination of advice services (local authorities, lawyers, many charities) and similar sources for SMEs.
- How do we ensure that dispute resolution pathways are simple, effective and cost-effective and deliver justice to people and organisations? Hodges advocates objective examination of pathways, techniques and options. It is interesting to compare various online systems (Court, Tribunal, Ombuds, citizen platforms, redress schemes), not just for inspiration in effective processes and techniques, but also to see if there might be some rationalisation in overlaps so as to make it easier for people to identify and access what can sometimes be a confusing number of options.
- How do we identify systemic problems, and address them so as to reduce future risk of recurrence? One set of issues relates to what sort of remedies are applied – awards of money are do not necessarily address people who seek information, change, or repaired relationships. Another set of solutions here seems to lie in asking about how to maximise collection of data, feed it back, and have the ability to intervene to ensure change in practices, behaviour and organisational cultures. Who should do this and how? Much learning can be drawn on here from regulatory and compliance expertise.
This book’s publication is timely. Members of the judiciary agree that the current piecemeal reform of the existing system will fail, and that what is necessary is real and radical reform. Hodges’ analysis of the present system indicates now is the time to institute this change. Similar conclusions have also just been published by the Commission for Justice in wales led by former Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who has written the Foreword to Hodges’ book. While digital technology provides the impetus for reform it needs to be part of an overall strategy that seeks to deliver justice via a single dispute resolution and legal advice system.