Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a frequently opted mechanism in today’s world for the settlement of disputes. It involves various sources through which parties can resolve their disputes without the intervention of courts. There are 4 main sources of ADR namely: Mediation, Arbitration, Neutral Evaluation, and Collaborative Law. These sources are usually taken into consideration and selected by parties for conflict resolution because of their flexible, confidential, and less stressful mechanism compared to the flaws involved in the litigation and traditional court trials. Modern society is always on the lookout to find cost-efficient and convenient ways in all aspects of life, ADR lays the ground for such inclination. ADR saves time, money, and energy involved in a dispute and speeds the process of settlement, it prevents the parties from jeopardizing their relations and leads to favourable outcomes for both parties involved.
Neutral Evaluation as a mode of ADR was initially designed to provide the parties with efficiency and an opportunity to resolve their disputes at an early stage. The neutral evaluator plays the role of a mediator between two parties and simulates them to understand the weaknesses and the strengths of the case. Neutral evaluation is a process in which the parties or their counsel presents their cases to a neutral evaluator who is usually an experienced lawyer and has a thorough knowledge of the substantive area of dispute. The neutral evaluator may also assist the parties with case planning guidance and clarify issues to encourage early settlement.
Neutral Evaluation is undertaken in a private setting with a voluntary agreement between the parties, it can be assessed at any time of the dispute, preferably at the earliest. It can only begin once the lawsuit is filed and in case a deadlock arises, neutral evaluation can be opted for with the consent of the parties. It is informal, confidential and a brief evaluation session of the dispute by a neutral third party. The outcome from the neutral evaluation is not binding on the parties, this decision can be agreed upon or rejected based on the parties’ agreement. The parties also have the absolute right to withdraw from the process at any given time. This mode of settlement is flexible as the decision is shaped according to the neutral evaluator and the parties’ preference. Neutral Evaluation also has a shield of confidentiality. The confidentiality for a neutral evaluation is determined by the parties’ agreement and they must exclusively agree via a clause in the neutral evaluation agreement. The neutral evaluator acts as a third party in the dispute and helps the parties to identify their main issues and renders a decision that is similar to the court’s verdict. In neutral evaluation, the parties can positively understand the case, understand their position, and resume to a mutually acceptable decision.
Features of Neutral Evaluation
Neutral evaluation is usually undertaken to reduce the costs of litigation and pre-trial processes, this mode of resolution attempts to prevent the drawbacks of litigation and to provide an early assessment of the case. The parties are offered neutral evaluation so that they can communicate directly and understand the relevance of their situation. It provides both parties with an opportunity to negotiate their dispute according to favourable conditions. This kind of evaluation is most effective when undertaken before the relations between both sides are rusted which can ward off their resolve to settle. In the course of the neutral evaluation, the parties can fully comprehend the legal and factual issues that are precisely presented. They understand the difference between the expectation and the reality of the outcome and attain a clearer idea of the core issues involved in the dispute. The parties must ensure that the neutral evaluator is an experienced, well-reputed, impartial, and knowledgeable person in the subject area of the dispute for a favorable outcome. A systematic preparation before the process of evaluation is an underlying factor for the success of neutral evaluation. The parties must be prepared to provide all the relevant information to the neutral evaluator and the other party for accurate evaluation. The neutral evaluation session is scheduled at a specific time, date, and a preferably convenient place for the parties. Some of the basic components in the process of neutral evaluation is to present the case to both the parties, focus on the main facts to narrow the scope of the dispute, to evaluate all the issues involved in the dispute, and essentially discuss grounds for settlement.
Limitations of Neutral Evaluation
Although there are various benefits of Neutral Evaluation and the other modes of ADR but it still suffers from certain limitations. This mode of settlement is considered to be an additional cost and postpones the court’s trial. The neutral evaluator may not be able to completely address the issue and might only focus on a certain section of the dispute. As this type of resolution is non-binding it cannot produce legal precedents and may result in an immaterial
The traditional practice of the court system is running on drylands today to settle disputes of lesser legal complexities. Neutral Evaluation aids the general public to resolve their conflicts with a third party who has thorough knowledge and experience on the practical aspect of the dispute. The parties can decide on a common negotiable territory and gain significant insights on the case with a clearer approach. The parties can recognize their limitations and emphasis an alternative mode for resolution of their dispute in a confidential and free environment. Neutral Evaluation creates a safe domain for its clients to correspond to various elements of the dispute and to put forward the best-suited settlement.
Ms. Hajra Fathima,
A 4th-year law student at M.S Ramaiah College of Law, Bangalore,
Intern with the ADR Wing of Prerna Foundation.