Emerging Policy on Consumer ADR in Europe
The Foundation for Law, Justice and Society co-sponsored a conference on alternative dispute resolution in Europe on 28th October, as part of the European Civil Justice Systems programme developed alongside the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at Oxford University. The conference attracted 70 delegates from all round Europe and beyond, with representatives from the European Commission, four governments, many ombudsmen, and consumer and business organisations. It comes in advance of, and will help to inform, the Commission's plans to announce two new legislative proposals, on ADR and ODR, later in November.
On the day, the emerging findings of a major research project on EU consumer ADR were outlined by Professor Chris Hodges, Dr Iris Benohr and Dr. Naomi Creutzfeldt-Banda. Drawing on research into models of consumer ADR in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Nordic States, France and Spain, the research findings were outlined to show which models for consumer ADR currently offer the most effective redress, measured against such criteria as transparency and independence. The range of consumer ADR bodies across European States were analysed, both those operating nationally and, more recently, on a pan-EU basis (such as schemes by Eurolease and the Direct Selling Association).
It was shown that the ADR models operate within different national architectures, but several similarities of technique have emerged:
- requiring direct contact between consumer and trader as a mandatory first step;
- mediation/conciliation by the neutral party;
- statement by the neutral party of a recommendation for a solution (non-binding) or a (binding) determination.
Variations in ADR across the EU were found to focus on issues such as independence and transparency, with Norway and the Netherlands leading the way in these respects.
Also discussed were two Recommendations produced by the European Commission relating to requirements for ADR bodies: 98/25/EC on ADR associated with court proceedings and 2011/310/EC on separate ADR bodies. Other important recent measures include the Mediation Directive, which applies from May 2011; whilst in the court sphere, a parallel instrument is the Small Claims procedure.
The day was closed with a panel discussion which focused on the future for ADR, including how it can be extended across the EU, how to improve standards, what should be the role of the courts and other regulators, and what are the implications of an expansion of ADR for access to justice.