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Let's hear it for arbitrators

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Kim Franklin is not alone in her belief that a legal mind is all that is need to brace up an arbitrator (aj 21.5.98). There is a procession of retiring judges busy lining themselves up for a little pin-money in their now rather long retirement.

But here's a caution. It is generally accepted that in construction litigation (that is, going to court rather than to an arbitrator), the cost of the case is likely to exceed the amount in dispute. A poor reflection, I think, on the efficiency of the process.

On the other hand, thanks to the change in the law that Ms Franklin refers to in her welcome new column, arbitrators are now able to put an effective cap on legal fees - frequently as low as 25 per cent of the principal sum.

With their wings clipped, lawyers have less time to presume that the person they are addressing knows nothing of the technicalities of the case, less time to enlighten on the intricacies of Building Regulations, bending moments of steel, fire-resisting qualities of glass, etc.

And the restriction that they now face with adjudication is extreme - for the whole process is quite likely to be disposed of within 28 days of its start.

Who then wants a lawyer-arbitrator or adjudicator who has spent a lifetime teasing gossamer from a legal argument, but who may otherwise know very little - rather than one that is technically astute?

Kim Franklin salutes the new legislation, and so do I. Influenced too much by lawyers, arbitration had become as expensive and time-consuming as the courts. Now we can expect a return to better and more accessible dispute resolution.

IAN SALISBURY

Oxford

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