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Last update: 04-11-2009
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Alternative dispute resolution - General Information

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Disputes can be solved without going to court.

You are in dispute with a firm, a tradesperson, your employer, even a member of your family, in your own country or abroad. If you cannot settle the dispute amicably, you can go to court of course, but you can also consider other dispute settlement procedures such as mediation or conciliation.

Sometimes the law or the courts will say you must go to alternative dispute resolution, but more often it is the parties to the dispute themselves who decide to do so. Alternative dispute resolution techniques can help you solve you problems by involving a neutral and qualified third party. Alternative dispute resolution comes in different forms, distinguished by the way in which the third party gets involved.
  • In certain cases, the third party helps the parties come to an agreement without actually formally expressing an opinion on one or other possible solutions to the dispute.
In the course of these processes, known as “conciliation” or “mediation” , the parties are invited to open or resume a dialogue and avoid confrontation; they themselves choose the technique for settling the dispute and play a particularly active role in endeavouring themselves to find the solution that suits them best. These methods provide an opportunity to go beyond the purely legal position and come to a personalised solution matching the real nature of the dispute. This consensus-based approach boosts the chances that once the parties have settled their dispute, they will be able to maintain normal business or personal relations.
  • In other cases, it is the third party who finds the solution and puts it to the parties.
In consumer disputes in particular, there are various forms of alternative dispute resolution in which the third party produces the solution.
    • Sometimes the third party makes a recommendation that the parties are then free to accept or not.

      The “consumer complaint boards” in the Scandinavian countries work in this way. A consumer who has taken a complaint to one of these boards can subsequently go to court if he is not satisfied with the proposed solution.

    • Sometimes the third party takes a decision that is binding on the tradesperson.

      This is for example the case with the “ombudsman” set up in certain businesses such as banking and insurance. His decisions are binding on firms taking part in the scheme. If the consumer is not satisfied with the decision, he can take his case to court.

  • In yet other hypotheses, more closely resembling the conventional court procedure, the third party is called an “arbitrator” and takes a decision to settle the dispute
The decision, binding on both sides to the dispute, can be taken in accordance with rules of law (classical arbitration) or on an equitable basis (amicable arbitration). The arbitrator's award has the status of an enforceable decision, which means that the settled dispute basically cannot be taken to court. Arbitration is often regarded as not really being a form of alternative dispute resolution. There are instruments of Community and international law governing or encouraging alternative dispute resolution. For further information, click on “Community law” or “International law” .


Last update: 04-11-2009

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