Alternative Dispute Resolution and the Civil Courts

A Very British Type of Justice—The Legacy of the Woolf Reforms in 2022


  • Debbie De Girolamo
  • Dominic Spenser Underhill



In 1996, Lord Woolf described a vision for civil English and Welsh justice, culminating in his culture-changing reforms (the Woolf Reforms) and the Civil Procedure Rules of April 1999. These impose a continuing duty on litigants to consider alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in preference to litigation, even after it has commenced, and on the courts, to encourage ADR. These duties are a central method for the delivery of justice. They required a radical new way of thinking about disputes from litigants, their advisors and the courts.

This article focuses on Lord Woolf’s vision and his Reforms, and their impact on the approach to ADR taken by the courts since 1999. It seeks to identify how that approach informs a concept of justice within the practice of modern litigation. The approach, supported by relevant case law, presents a broader and arguably more sophisticated view of justice that involves party autonomy, dialogue, settlement, creativity, flexibility of outcome, compromise, satisfaction and saving costs, as well as the more conventional approach to determining rights at trial after due process. 

Keywords: ADR; mediation; justice; civil justice; court reforms; overriding objective; Halsey.


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Special Section: ADR Issues and Development (Part 1)