What happens after a case is referred for Neutral Evaluation?
Within 21 days after a case has been referred for Neutral Evaluation, the State Courts Centre for Dispute Resolution will schedule a preliminary conference between a Judge and the parties' lawyers. At this conference, the Judge will discuss with the lawyers the following matters:
- Whether the parties intend for the evaluation to be binding
- Whether affidavits of evidence-in-chief would be exchanged
- The factual and expert witnesses who will attend the Neutral Evaluation hearing
- The dates for the Neutral Evaluation hearing
- Any other matters that will facilitate the quick and economical conduct of the Neutral Evaluation
Once the Neutral Evaluation hearing date has been fixed, your lawyers must submit a concise opening statement setting out your claim and attaching all the key documentary evidence that you intend to rely on at the hearing. This must be done no later than two (2) working days before the hearing.
Who needs to be present at the Neutral Evaluation?
The parties and their lawyers should attend the hearing. The factual and expert witnesses whose identities are confirmed and agreed upon at the Preliminary Conference should attend the hearing.
In the case of corporations and other entities, any representative who has the authority to settle the case should attend the hearing. If only a board or body has the authority to settle on behalf of the entity, the entity should send the person who is the most knowledgeable about the case.
What happens at the Neutral Evaluation?
At the Neutral Evaluation hearing, the parties and their lawyers will present their respective cases and the available supporting evidence to one another and the evaluator. The key witnesses on each side will be called to testify. The usual procedural and evidential rules in a trial will not be applied strictly. Cross-examination of witnesses will generally not take place. When separate expert witnesses are called, they would give evidence using the expert witness conferencing approach, which involves a joint discussion of the expert issues amongst the experts in the presence of one another.
The evaluator may, at any time during the Neutral Evaluation hearing, ask questions to probe or clarify any submission or evidence presented by the parties and their witnesses. Where suitable, the evaluator would also identify areas of agreement or disagreement. The parties would also be given the opportunity to make their respective submissions or arguments. After all presentations and evidence have been made or delivered, the evaluator will give an oral assessment of the merits of the parties' case.
When I use Neutral Evaluation, am I able to attempt other ADR processes later?
Yes. If the parties are unable to settle their case after Neutral Evaluation, the Judge may recommend that other ADR processes such as mediation be pursued. Similarly, if the parties are unable to settle at mediation, the parties are not precluded from opting for Neutral Evaluation thereafter.