The Vice Chancellor has approved a joint application by the parties’ solicitors that the High Court undertake an early neutral evaluation of a case involving a dispute under the Inheritance Act, Seals and another v Williams  EWHC 1829,[i]
This involves a judge evaluating the respective parties’ cases on a preliminary basis. It provides a non-binding but authoritative, provisional view of the main legal issues in the case. The judge can also give an informed view on the evidence from both sides. It is endorsed as a potential approach in the Commercial Court and the Technology and Construction Court. Its adoption in Chancery matters was warmly welcomed.
Norris J endorsed the lawyers’ approach in making the suggestion. This was an acrimonious case, where mediation had already been tried, but which was unsuccessful. The judge commented that the process is particularly useful where the parties have very conflicting views on the prospects of success and an inadequate understanding of the risks of litigation.
It is common for a judge to express provisional views, with a view to assisting the parties. This can reduce the areas of dispute and the general scope of the argument. It is an inherent part of the judicial function both in civil litigation and in criminal proceedings.
However, Early Neutral Evaluation differs: here, the case is referred to a “Settlement Judge” to provide recommendations as to the potential outcome and to give short reasons. This is without attempting a mini trial or giving a provisional judgment. The Settlement Judge will not be further involved in the proceedings at all. The parties would be bound by their agreement to refer this to early neutral evaluation, but would not be bound by the outcome or the decision of the Settlement Judge.
Early Neutral Evaluation is just one of a myriad of alternative dispute resolution techniques, as opposed to having a case decided ultimately at court by a judge, following a full trial. These techniques include Mediation, Expert Determination, Arbitration, Adjudication, Conciliation, and not forgetting the infinite variations of negotiation, whether assisted by a third party or not. For advice on any issue that you think we may be able to assist with, please contact us.
If you would like to speak to someone regarding some of the issues within this article please contact Howard Rutter.
Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.