Book review: Delivering Dispute Resolution: a Holistic Review of Models in England and Wales

By Christopher Hodges. Hart, October 2019. ISBN 9781509916900. Reviewed by Sir Ernest Ryder

In his latest authoritative review of civil justice systems, Professor Christopher Hodges has set out his stall to champion dispute resolution methods for those who need simple, well organised and timely redress, whether individuals, small businesses or organisations. His new book, Delivering Dispute Resolution: A Holistic Review of Models in England and Wales (Hart, 2019) is more than just an impressive ninth volume in a valuable and almost unique survey of comparative behaviours in civil justice. This volume provides a clear template for dispute resolution in the future, based on extensive collaborative research and analysis with practitioners, regulators, judges and ombudsman to identify ‘what works’. The result is an easily readable narrative and detailed source of reference that will surely become essential reading for those interested in developing better dispute resolution opportunities for their users and those interested in the development of justice policy. It provides a glimpse of the future for any policy maker bold enough to treat justice as something important to the day to day lives of its users.

The book is beautifully structured to help the busy reader. Every chapter is a carefully identified specialist area researched with the help of leadership judges, ombudsman, regulators and ADR specialists. The elements of the argument as it develops are highlighted by conclusions and recommendations that are brought together in a concluding solution. There is probably no single author or academic presently able to bring together such a broad and diverse range of theoretical and practical factors and make sense of their impact on both the user and the decision-maker alike. I strongly recommend this book to anyone seriously interested in improving outcomes in our justice system.

Beginning and ending with a stark conclusion that our national dispute resolution systems need fixing, Professor Hodges develops a compelling hypothesis that a chaotic lack of coherence, results in rights not being vindicated in an effective and timely fashion. He identifies the best elements of that which is already provided in courts, tribunals, ombudsman schemes, ADR and regulatory systems and brings them together in a comparative examination. He suggests the need for a new process beginning with an urgent need for a cultural re-examination of ethical practice so that the rule of law can respond to user’s needs. Finally, he proposes a solution to the problems he has identified: an integrated system of good practice, dispute resolution pathways involving triage, mediation, online resolution, decision making and enforcement.

The solution would involve brave steps and innovations that many of us in the judiciary, in practice and as policy influencers have been arguing for: a problem-solving approach that more closely integrates those who make decisions with those who provide advice and remedies in the courts, the tribunals, in ombudsman schemes, ADR and ODR. It is a solution that begins to grapple with the urgent need for advice for those with problems, in particular, multiple related problems. This is a template for a wide-ranging review of justice that should lead to a National Justice Council as soon as possible.

I welcome the detailed analysis upon which Professor Hodges bases his ideas. Specialist decision-makers and practitioners will be greatly assisted in the work they do to improve their services by reference to them. This is a timely book that will provide the lead that is needed and justify its place in the national debate.

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Sir Ernest Ryder

Rt Hon Sir Ernest Ryder is Senior President of Tribunals.