Rochford v Rochford – defendants pay penalty for rejecting mediation

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If the information released online by the lawyers acting in Rochford v Rochford [2020] is anything to go by, the case has proved to be another demonstration of the value of engaging in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to avoid Court proceedings.

The details reveal that the claimant, who is disabled, had been left a sum of £25,000 in her late father’s Will. However, due to her disability and income shortfall, she brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for further provision for her maintenance from the estate, arguing that the amount she had received was insufficient to meet her maintenance needs.

The claimant offered to attend mediation in an attempt to reach a settlement out of Court but the defendants declined, arguing that the claim lacked merit and that additional disclosure of documents was required.

At the subsequent trial, the Judge awarded the claimant a further £85,000, almost half of the residuary estate. Given that the claim had been made against a relatively modest estate, the Judge was apparently critical of the defendants’ actions in snubbing the opportunity to mediate the matter to try to find a negotiated solution, rather than pursuing the matter to a final hearing.

As a result, and because the claimant had beaten an offer she had made during the matter, the Judge penalised the defendants by ordering that the costs were payable on the punitive indemnity basis, in addition to interest and a further penalty of 10% of the judgment amount and well as an interim payment toward the claimant’s legal costs.

The Court actively encourages engagement in ADR, including mediation, to settle claims without recourse to litigation. Going to Court should always be a last resort as it is a time consuming, expensive and stressful process. There are often plenty of options available to the parties to come to an agreement beforehand, both before and after proceedings are issued. Depending on the situation, paths to an agreement may include written or face-to-face negotiations, or a formal mediation where an independent mediator attempts to broker an agreement between the parties.

Will disputes can often stir strong emotions and foment a sense of injustice but ultimately each case is judged on the facts. Therefore, claims must be credible and based on reliable evidence in order to be successful.