Churchill v Merthyr Tydfil Council case: is forced alternative dispute resolution acceptable?

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In the recent case of Churchill v Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, the Court of Appeal held that the court has a discretionary power to order a ‘stay’ in proceedings and compel the parties to engage in a non-court-based dispute resolution process such as mediation. This article looks into this case in detail to determine whether this process is seen as acceptable. 

The claim

Mr Churchill issued proceedings against the council, claiming that his property was damaged as a result of Japanese knotweed growing on a neighbouring property which the council owned. The council invited Mr Churchill to use their complaints procedure in order to come to a resolution. Mr Churchill refused and instead issued court proceedings. 

In response, the council asked the court to order a stay of proceedings and compel Mr Churchill to engage in their complaints process.

The council’s request was dismissed as the judge considered himself bound by comments made in the earlier case of Halsey v Milton Keynes General Hospital NHS Trust. In this case, the court expressed the view that forced alternative dispute resolution could be an unacceptable constraint on the right of access to the court and therefore a violation of Article 6 of the Human Rights Act. 

Note: Article 6 of the Human Rights Act is the ‘right to a fair trial’, whereby everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.

The decision was appealed.


The Court of Appeal held that the comments from Halsey were not binding and that court-ordered alternative dispute resolution was compatible with Article 6.  

In its reasoning, the court held that there would be no infringement of Article 6 unless a party’s access to a judicial hearing was lost and the delay was disproportionate to achieving resolution fairly and quickly. It held that ‘the court can lawfully stay existing proceedings for, or order, the parties to engage in a non-court-based dispute resolution process’.

It is important to note however that this power is limited to circumstances where such an order would not impair the claimant’s right to a judicial hearing. Additionally, it must be proportionate to achieving the legitimate aim of settling the dispute fairly, quickly and at reasonable cost.  

The court was unwilling to lay out what specific factors must be considered when considering ordering a stay in proceedings for non-court-based dispute resolution, and it concluded that it was for the judge in each case to decide what factors may be relevant. 

Interestingly, despite the court determining itself capable of ordering stays for non-court-based dispute resolution, it decided not to order a stay in this instance.


This decision supports the principle that litigation should be a means of last resort, and it emphasises the court’s determination to enforce this upon parties to disputes.

For more information, please contact the wills and inheritance disputes team.

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