Last night (25 May 2016), Dentons hosted an event at One Fleet Place to launch the revised Adjudication Pilot Scheme for Professional Negligence Claims. Lord Justice Briggs delivered the keynote address.

Background to the relaunch

The first Pilot Scheme was launched in February 2015, under the supervision of Mr Justice Ramsey. Loosely based on the successful adjudication scheme used in construction disputes, the Scheme was intended to enable parties to a professional negligence dispute to obtain a quick adjudication (within 56 days) at a relatively low cost (up to £10,000 plus VAT) that would be binding on the parties (unless the contrary was agreed at the start).

Following the launch of the first Pilot Scheme, the Pre-Action Protocol for Professional Negligence claims was amended to add adjudication as a means of alternative dispute resolution, which is described succinctly as "a process by which an independent adjudicator provides the parties with a decision that can resolve the dispute either permanently or on a temporary basis, pending subsequent court determination".

The relaunch

As there was a limited uptake of the first Pilot Scheme, the rules have now been streamlined and improved to encourage greater participation by professional negligence lawyers and their clients.

The main changes are as follows:

  1. The revised Scheme is no longer limited to claims against solicitors but is now also available for claims against all non-medical professionals.
  2. There is no longer a cap on the value of dispute that can be considered by an adjudicator. In the first Pilot Scheme, there was a cap of £100,000.
  3. The costs of the adjudicator are now banded so that they correlate to the complexity and value of the dispute.

A detailed guidance note has also been produced, which provides a useful explanation of the process for those unfamiliar with adjudication.

What this means for professional negligence lawyers

Disputing parties and their lawyers are now actively encouraged to consider using adjudication as a form of alternative dispute resolution, with the costs of the process intended to be comparable to those of mediation. The revised Scheme does, however, remain fully voluntary and both parties to the dispute must agree to adopt it.

The revised Scheme is thought to be particularly useful for disputes where the input of an experienced practitioner might assist if a crucial point at issue (such as limitation or breach of duty) has become an obstacle to settlement, as it leaves the parties to determine the rest of the case outside of the adjudication process. The flexibility of the revised Scheme is also bound to be a draw, since the parties retain the powers to determine both the extent of the adjudicator's role and whether his or her decision will be binding.