Thursday, 1 November 2012

A Non-Adversarial Approach To Resolving Social Care Disputes

Vic Citarella of CPEA Ltd and Helen O’Brien of the Centre for Justice propose a non-adversarial approach to resolving social care disputes

This is to let readers know about Centre for Justice, an independent not for profit arbitration service developed for the public sector. The service has been created in response to the growing cost of local government disputes and conflict management, the need to save public money and as a way to improve services.

As we all know, going to court or tribunal is a costly business for councils. The process is damaging to staff morale, the council’s reputation and the client relationships which people work so hard to develop. Courts and tribunals are acknowledged to be slow, risky and expensive. These and complaints procedures can inflame a sense of grievance and cause positions to become deeply entrenched.

CPEA Ltd is exploring the Centre for Justice’s non-adversarial approach to dispute resolution. The model uses a simple process with one specialist lawyer who works with the parties to investigate the problem. This reduces the cost to a fraction of that of going to court or tribunal. The arbitrator offers to mediate between parties at each stage to find a constructive solution. Centre for Justice provides a legally binding result in every dispute. It also enables most disputes to be concluded with positive outcomes through discussion and agreement.

The Centre has been speaking to Heads of Legal Services from London Boroughs and many have mentioned social care disputes over personalised packages and direct payments. Conversations with charities also indicate support for processes which reduce the time and stress involved in going to court or tribunal, and which provide a less intimidating forum for discussing sensitive issues with the local authority.

The primary aim is to save money and time spent preparing for costly tribunals, Judicial Reviews and contract disputes. We believe this time should be devoted to providing essential services to children, families and adults.

The case involving Stephen Neary that came before the courts last year is a good example of how a non-adversarial process could have saved both time and money. The Council involved spent more than a year defending its decision to keep Neary in care.

A judge later overturned that decision, saying the care was neither wanted nor needed. If these decisions go to court, on judicial review or otherwise, it results in a great deal of legal cost and staff time. Not only can this generate considerable stress and hostility, but it can still leave both parties in limbo. While a judge can quash the original decision, this still provides no solution and can force the case back to the start.

If the case goes instead to Centre for Justice, a specialist arbitrator helps Council and client agree the right outcome. The arbitrator advises on the legal issues and decides these where necessary. This enables the local authority and client to find positive solutions for the most intractable and emotive issues.

CPEA Ltd is supporting the Centre is ensuring its work has the best social care practice and professional back-up to its work. Contact: info@centreforjustice.org or info@cpea.co.uk Website: www.centreforjustice.org or www.cpea.co.uk