Faced with pressures on the UK Employment Tribunal (ET) system, policymakers have turned to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) as a way of easing the strain, despite there being little robust evidence of a statistically significant cost-saving impact from ADR. Commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, Professor Peter Urwin led the first robust statistical evaluation project on the cost-effectiveness of Judicial Mediation, such as ADR, within ETs.
This large mixed-methods study was made up of Economists with experience of quantitative evaluation methodologies; Sociologists with experience of qualitative data methodologies; Industrial Relations experts; and Lawyers.
The headline conclusion from the multivariate quantitative (matching) analysis was that no statistically significant impact on either resolution rates and/or satisfaction rates was found amongst parties who had undergone judicial mediation, relative to those who had expressed an interest in mediation but had not undergone the process. Further, the cost-benefit analysis suggested that even with substantial impacts, financial costs would outweigh financial benefits. In fact, the research suggested that rates of resolution within the pilot areas of Newcastle, Birmingham and Central London had suffered more generally, possibly as members of the judiciary were distracted from their usual case-loads to provide mediation.
Urwin’s research resulted in an institutional impact upon the activities, attitudes, awareness and practice of those involved in ADR within the UK.
The findings of the research led to increased critical attention upon the Ministry of Justice who commissioned the report and decided to roll out Judicial Mediation anyway on the basis of qualitative findings that ADR is popular amongst claimants and employers where Urwin’s quantitative evidence showed that ADR is ineffective both in regard to rates of resolution and cost.
The upshot of this is that Urwin’s research has contributed to significant questions of accountability with respect to the allocation of public funds, given that it has been seen that government ministries sometimes commission independent reports that are disregarded due to their own prerogatives.
This in turn has resulted in wider debates as to what constitutes evidence for UK policy-making, given the privileging here of qualitative over quantitative data. This debate has unfolded across various practitioner journals and other forums, such as Equal Opportunities Review, Tribunal (a publication of the Judicial Studies Board, overseen by the Lord Chief Justice), by policy-makers within the Ministry of Justice, and other practitioner publications such as The Law Society Gazette – with some commentators supporting the roll-out of JM and others pointing to the research findings as important evidence against this roll-out.
The debate generated by Professor Peter Urwin’s research goes to the heart of the relationship between academia and government, showing how independent evidence produced by academics can result in intensified critical attention upon government policy and practice.