Tarquin is a young solicitor who works for a very eminent legal practice that attaches great importance to its employees behaving correctly at all times. Last year he bought a skiing holiday package at the Swiss Alpine Hotel from Roustabout Travel, a small, rather mismanaged tour company which is owned by Robert (Robbo) Golightly. As well as promising an excellent hotel and skiing facilities, Roustabout’s brochure states that the Swiss Alpine’s après ski facilities are excellent and that because the hotel is quite isolated, a genuine, lively, bier keller will open each evening. The friendliness of the management is emphasised and the brochure states that excellent coffee and cakes will be served each afternoon. It also mentions that at least once a week there will be a demonstration of authentic folk dancing and yodelling in the main hotel lounge.
Although the accommodation and skiing facilities are as good as the Roustabout brochure claims, Tarquin finds to his dismay that he is the only guest in the hotel and that the bier keller doesn’t open during his stay. The quality of the coffee and cakes is poor whilst the yodelling/folk exhibitions consist of a man in work overalls popping in once a week for 10 minutes on his way home and doing very little. Tarquin’s inappropriate advances to the manageress are firmly rebuffed, something which greatly annoys him.
Overlooking that in some respects, Roustabout’s brochure did deliver, when he returns home, Tarquin issues proceedings in the County Court. His claim is limited to £1000 which means that it is dealt with as a small claim.
Having spoken to the aggrieved manageress and learned of Tarquin’s inappropriate behaviour, Golightly makes it clear that he intends to vigorously contest the proceedings. Although he knows nothing of the internal workings of Tarquin’s firm, he strongly suspects that his customer would not want evidence of his behaviour to emerge in the course of court proceedings. However, he is very mindful that Roustabout travel has been the subject of a number of complaints and that as a result, ABTA are keeping an eye on him and he needs to try to avoid any adverse publicity. Golightly is all too aware that in one of his very strongly worded open letters, Tarquin has mentioned that he has been “surfing the complaints sections of the Internet” and that he is therefore aware of ABTA’s concerns about Roustabout.
In his more lucid moments Tarquin is mindful that even if his claim succeeds he is unlikely to recover very much compensation and that his £1000 claim is a little optimistic. Equally and rather belatedly he comes to realise that in the light of his bad behaviour, the last thing he wants is any sort of public airing.
During a brief preliminary court hearing a District Judge strongly hints that this is a case that would best be resolved through mediation. The parties get the message and agree to pursue this option. Tarquin does a little additional research and as a result an online mediation is arranged.
In the course of a 90-minute mediation, because they are free from the legal niceties that they would have had to observe in formal proceedings each party makes his position perfectly clear. Tarquin very specifically mentions that court proceedings would result in adverse publicity for Roustabout and that given that some aspects of the brochure were very inaccurate, ABTA might very well investigate. Equally, Golightly strongly emphasises Tarquin’s inappropriate behaviour and that in the course of proceedings this might attract unwelcome publicity.
Privately, Tarquin concedes to the mediator that his behaviour towards the manageress was “a bit over the top”. Equally, Golightly privately concedes that in some respects his brochure was “a bit inaccurate” and that he should have warned Tarquin in advance that he would be the only hotel resident and that the bier keller would not open during his stay.
The net effect is that although they are very reluctant to make any form of open admission, each party is all too well aware of the deficiencies in their respective positions. The matter is settled on the basis that Tarquin is offered a long summer weekend holiday in Ibiza and that on arrival he will be transported to his hotel in a limousine.
The obvious benefits are quite apparent. Tarquin and Golightly are both very mindful that irrespective of the outcome, even the relatively modest small claims court fee was out of all proportion to the value of the claim. Fortunately, because matters were resolved at an early point, not too much money has been expended. With the benefit of using an informal online mediation process the parties to this dispute agreed quite an imaginative outcome, something that could not have been achieved had court proceedings been pursued.
Taking up the online option means that a reasonable, very cost-effective settlement has been negotiated. Tarquin notes that the matter has been resolved much more quickly than if the small claims procedure had been followed through to its conclusion. Golightly’s main regret is that mediation was not considered earlier. He is all too aware that even though the court small claims procedure is designed to be layperson friendly, he has still spent a disproportionate amount of time on it that he could have used more productively.
Principal Director of ASM PLUS, civil/commercial, workplace, employment, family and educational mediator and trainer with a judicial/legal background. He has knowledge and expertise in dispute resolution in a wide range of areas and disciplines and mediates online.