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Alternatives to court

Alternatives to Court in Northern Ireland, an information booklet to promote alternative dispute resolution, was launched on 12 September 2011.

The booklet was developed through a unique publishing partnership between the Northern Ireland Ombudsman, Law Centre (NI) and Queen’s University Belfast. It was published in recognition that going to court to resolve a dispute can be expensive, time-consuming and stressful and in some cases can result in an unsatisfactory experience.

The initiative was endorsed by the Minister of Justice, David Ford and Mr Justice Weatherup, at the launch held at the Northern Ireland Ombudsman’s office.

The new booklet aims to show members of the public that there other ways of dealing with many types of dispute, how these alternatives to court might work and when it is appropriate to use them. It also includes a detailed directory of dispute resolution services available in Northern Ireland appropriately organised by specific types of disputes.

These alternatives can be useful in sorting out disputes brought about by a breakdown in family or business relationships or with service providers across the public and private sectors.

The booklet is available online on NI Direct as well as the Ombudsman and Law Centre websites.

Speaking about the initiative, Northern Ireland Ombudsman Tom Frawley said:

‘In dealing with complaints from members of the public about public service delivery, far too often the public think that there is no other option but to go to court to seek a resolution to their dispute. Clearly, there is not enough public awareness of the alternatives to dispute resolution and we undertook this project to address this obvious information gap.

‘We believe that with the help of clearer guidelines people will better understand the options available to them and their specific circumstances.’

The Justice Minister, David Ford, who also attended the launch, gave the new leaflet his full support:

‘Going to a court or a tribunal does not have to be the automatic first choice when it comes to reaching an accommodation with a third party. Dispute resolution can be handled in a less adversarial and potentially less expensive way which allows all parties to contribute to a mutually satisfying solution.

‘My hope is that Alternative Dispute Resolution will be seen as one of the first avenues to be considered by parties who find themselves at odds. It is not a second rate solution. It is, I believe, a commonsense option which delivers speedy access to justice.’

A poster publicising the website versions is also available on request from the Law Centre.

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