Newspaper columns are replete with accounts of the crushing costs of litigation and it is easy to lose sight of the fact that it is the role of judges to resolve disputes as efficiently and cheaply as possible. The High Court has done just that in bending over backwards to achieve a settlement of a bitter family will dispute.
Two sons had launched proceedings, challenging their father’s will by which he left everything he owned, including his £675,000 share of the family farm, to a childhood friend. The dispute had generated a great deal of acrimony and the positions of the parties were in danger of becoming entrenched.
An attempt at mediation had largely stalled and it was to the credit of lawyers on both sides that they had encouraged the parties to settle their differences. To that end, the Court took the rare step of directing that a judge should carry out a ‘neutral evaluation’ of the strength of the arguments on each side.
That swift and relatively low cost procedure, whilst not leading to a formal judgment, would result in non-binding recommendations as to the likely outcome of the case which would be likely to assist in achieving a settlement. The Court noted that the use of such a fast-track procedure was possible under the Court’s inherent jurisdiction to control proceedings and was to be ‘warmly welcomed’.