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Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) offers a way for commercial disputes to be resolved without the need for costly litigation. A common type of ADR is conciliation.
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Conciliation involves an independent conciliator who facilitates communication between the two parties having the dispute, with the aim of achieving a settlement or resolution. ACAS provides a special conciliation service for employment law disputes.

Once the parties in dispute have agreed to a conciliation process, an independent conciliator will be appointed. They will discuss the issues and try to help the parties reach an agreement, often providing their own opinion after assessing the situation and the different arguments. Their opinion may help to form a settlement or achieve a conclusion to the dispute.

It's important to note that the conciliation process is entirely voluntary; a successful outcome depends on a mutual agreement and either party is free to walk away at any stage.

A conciliator does not need to undergo any specific training but some do have legal experience which can be helpful in certain disputes. ACAS conciliators are specially trained in dealing with disputes between employees and employers.

The job of a conciliator is primarily to facilitate communication between the parties having a dispute and steer them towards an agreement. They will usually consider the position of each party and, unlike in mediation, may offer their opinion as to the merits of each argument and recommend a fair outcome (eg the terms of any settlement).

Once the conciliator has made their recommendations, it is up to the parties to decide whether to agree to any proposals. The suggestions or opinions of a conciliator cannot be imposed. If a settlement is achieved, it must be set out in writing in order to be legally binding.

Arbitration is a more formal type of ADR, with a tribunal process and a decision being made by the arbitrator. Mediation and conciliation are less formal procedures and focus on the facilitation of communication with a view to resolving a dispute; conciliation involves evaluative methods and recommendations whereas mediators tend not to make any proposals for settlement.

Conciliation can be used in various situations but is most commonly used in employment law disputes. ACAS provides a conciliation service and some companies have their own conciliation process which forms part of their disciplinary and grievance procedures.

Any employee wishing to take a case to an Employment Tribunal must first notify the ACAS Early Conciliation service. This involves:

  • submitting an Early Conciliation notification form
  • ACAS contacts employee and employer offering their free conciliation service
  • if both parties agree, conciliation takes place - this must be completed within one month (starting on the date on which the notification form is submitted - with a possible extension of 14 days)
  • if either party does not agree or conciliation does not work out, an Early Conciliation Certificate is provided by ACAS, which is needed to lodge the claim with an Employment Tribunal
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