High Court Judge Urges People to Keep Neighbour Disputes out of Court

With the courts still backed up due to the COVID-19 pandemic, High Court judge Master McCloud is urging that parties dealing with neighbour disputes find alternative resolution methods. By staying out of the courts for such disputes, time for more pressing issues will become available.

In the conclusion of her judgment in McGill v Stewart & Anor, a dispute between neighbours about private vehicles using their shared single access lane, Master McCloud suggested these types of cases were better suited for online resolution and mediation outside of court.

"If that were to become the trend it would reduce the high stakes caused by legal expenses and perhaps aid relationships among neighbours," said McCloud.

"In the modernising legal system, one hopes that such fallings-out will be less painful when resolved away from formal court settings. The courts themselves have limited resources, and whilst I appreciate that neighbour disputes are significant to the parties, it must be borne in mind that such disputes compete for time with cases such as those one sees daily in this court concerning brain damage and other life-changing injuries, death and the very gravest of historic child abuse."

The parties in McGill v Stewart & Anor were owners of two properties on a private drive in Buckinghamshire. This lane is the only conventional way to access both properties, and the dispute was focused on the defendants' right of way and their alleged failure to observe the restriction limiting use to 'private motor vehicles'.

It was alleged that the surface of the lane had been damaged after the defendants allowed the use of the lane for other vehicles. The defendants denied longstanding misuse and claimed they did not permit prohibited vehicles to use the lane. The master concluded that vehicles using the private drive should be limited to those necessary for the normal use of the property as a dwelling. Any additional uses would require permission from the other party, and if the parties could not agree to this restriction, then the master recommended that they all participate in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to draft an agreement in writing.

As more and more aspects of our lives are becoming visible online, and as the courts have become extremely busy as a result of the backlogs created by the pandemic, alternative dispute resolution has become an even more important option. Disputes still need to be settled, resolutions can be found, and stalled litigation can be handled outside of closed courtrooms.

With Zoom Professional and Skype, Winsby Leyburn hosts web based alternative dispute resolution mediation services, completely online. These tools allow any number of participants or groups to meet confidentially and remotely from their individual locations. The session is managed by a highly experienced mediator who participates in the Zoom meeting and helps guide the dispute toward resolution expediently. Alternative dispute resolution is the best method for finding concrete solutions to legal disputes both during the pandemic and beyond to help reduce the stress on an overloaded court system.


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