The Different Meanings of ADR

There is nothing new about ADR: The Chinese were using it to resolve disputes three thousand years ago 1) and it has existed in North America for some decades 2). ADR has a number of different meanings in different contexts. The traditional way to examine ADR is as a range of possible techniques. The following list was published in 2010 3):

  1. In-house complaints procedures: many ADR schemes stipulate that individuals must have exhausted the company's in-house complaints procedures before using the ADR mechanism.
  2. Mediation: mediation is conducted confidentially and consists of an independent third party actively assisting the parties in working towards a negotiated agreement of a dispute.
  3. Conciliation: this is a process similar to mediation but in whìch the neutral third party takes a more active role in putting forward terms of settlement or an opinion on the case.
  4. Arbitration: in arbitration an independent third partv considers both sides in a dispute, and makes a decision that resolves the dispute. ln most cases the arbitrator's decision is legally binding on both sides.
  5. Adjudication: like arbitration, adjudication involves an independent third party considering the claims of both sides and making a decisíon. This usually produces a decision that is binding on the company but not on the consumer
  6. Ombudsman schemes: ombudsmen are independent, impartial intermediaries who consider complaints. The particular mechanisms of ombudsman schemes vary but they often combine neutral face-finding, mediation and adjudication in various tiers.
  7. Legal mechanisms: formal legal acrìon is usually che lase resort employed by consumers to obtain redress. consumers can, however, rake legal action without going through other mechanisms if they wish.


1) S Roberts and M Palmer, Dispute Processes. ADR and the Primary Forms of Decision-Making (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

2) M Shapiro, Courts. A Comparative and Political Analysis (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1981).

3) Mapping UK consumer redress. A summary guide to dispute resolution systems (Office of Fair Trading, May 2010), available at .