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In recent years, alternate forms of dispute resolution, such as arbitration and mediation, have gained significant importance. Due to their advantages, these methods are being encouraged over litigation, especially in civil and commercial disputes. UAE, being a business hub, actively promotes alternate dispute resolution methods because they are time-efficient and provide a win-win solution for the parties to the dispute.
Since its growth, ADR has constantly been evolving and new techniques have come to be adopted by various jurisdictions throughout the world. One such technique is that of a Settlement Conference, which can be said to fall under the umbrella term of Mediation.
What is a Settlement Conference?
A settlement conference, as the name suggests, is a meeting of the parties to a dispute where they attempt to arrive at a mutual solution instead of going to trial. When a dispute is of such nature that it can be settled outside the court, the parties can opt for a settlement conference where they can discuss their issues and agree upon a common resolution. It is also known as a pre-litigation settlement, or informal settlement conference, or simply a round table conference.
A settlement conference can either be voluntary, i.e. either of the parties can request it to be arranged, or mandatory, i.e. where the court refers the parties to a settlement conference before proceeding towards a trial. A settlement conference usually takes place in a civil matter, such as breach of a contract or a divorce case. Settlements in criminal cases may take place at the option of the victim.
How does a Settlement Conference work?
Parties are accompanied by their attorneys and are presided over by a judge. The judge is informed about the facts of the dispute by the parties and will then meet with the attorneys of either side to hear their claims. Once this is done, the judge will attend each party separately and present offers or counteroffers to both. The judge can also state his own recommendations for the parties to reach a common ground. Once the parties are happy with and agree upon a solution, the settlement will be documented along with the agreement, which will be reviewed and then signed by the parties to the dispute.
A settlement cannot be forced upon the parties, and if the parties cannot reach an amicable solution, the case will proceed towards trial.
Why should parties choose to settle their dispute through a Settlement Conference?
Just like any other alternate method of dispute resolution, a settlement conference ensures that a dispute is resolved within a reasonable time frame and the outcome is favorable for both the parties. A settlement conference will save the parties from the hassle of litigation, as well as the chance of losing the case in court. Litigation often comes with heavy costs and unwanted publicity. A settlement conference will ensure that the parties have thought through these factors and whether they want to proceed to trial or settle beforehand.
Are there any drawbacks to a Settlement Conference?
Just like every other alternate dispute resolution method, a settlement conference will bar you from a clear win and the exercise of all your claims. Naturally, a settlement conference implies that the parties reach common ground, thus limiting the parties to a certain extent. Alternate dispute resolution urges the parties to compromise in order to arrive at a fair decision for both sides, unlike the litigation process where the judgement may be pronounced in favor of one party. Further, a good settlement conference will depend entirely on the negotiation skills of your lawyer, which can be quite risky if you do not have strong evidence to support your claim. Moreover, not every case is of the nature that it can be settled through a settlement conference.
Is Settlement Conference practiced in the UAE?
The Family Guidance Committee is a suitable example of a settlement conference, which addresses cases related to family matters before they can reach the court. Article 16 of the Personal Status Code, 2005, makes it mandatory for parties governed by the law to resort to the Family Orientation Committee for their disputes, unless they cannot be resolved through reconciliation.
A similar provision is incorporated under Dubai Law No. 16 of 2009, which brought into existence the Centre for Amicable Settlement of Disputes. As per Article 6, matters that fall within the jurisdiction of the Centre shall be referred to it before being instituted in a court.
Federal Law No. 17 of 2016 establishes mediation centers in Courts of First Instance. Civil and commercial disputes not exceeding a valuation of AED 500,000, and those referred to the centers by the parties themselves can be decided by the centers.