Communities and Justice

What is Alternative Dispute Resolution

The information on this page is about resolving civil disputes not criminal matters.

Thousands of people in NSW use alternatives to court every year to resolve all kinds of legal disputes, ranging from small debts or neighbour disagreements to large commercial matters.

These methods are called alternative dispute resolution or ADR for short. The information in this section will help you decide what might be suitable for your dispute.

What is ADR?

Alternative dispute resolution or ADR describes a range of processes where an impartial practitioner helps people resolve their disputes. The word 'alternative' is usually understood to mean that these processes are an alternative to having a decision made by a Judge or Magistrate in court.

There are different kinds of ADR to choose from, including:

Why not let the court or tribunal decide for you?

ADR can be a better option because it can be quicker, cheaper, more flexible, less stressful and more confidential. It can also help preserve business or personal relationships between the people involved in the dispute. Most people who have tried ADR in appropriate circumstances report high rates of success and satisfaction.

Many people assume that if they start a case in court, it will automatically go through to a final hearing to be decided by a judge. This is not true. In fact, only 3% to 5% of civil cases go to a final hearing. The vast majority of disputes are resolved through negotiation or ADR. In many cases, the court or tribunal may require you to try ADR before you can take your claim further.

When can you use ADR?

You can try ADR at any time during the dispute, including before you start a legal case, while a case is going on or even after a court or tribunal has made a decision. For more information see ADR before, during or after court. Many contracts also require people to use ADR rather than court processes as a first step if any disputes about the contract arise.

Charged with a crime?

If you have been charged with an offence or received a Court Attendance Notice, you must go to court.    

In some circumstances, the court may refer you to a diversion program.

Community Justice Centres

Community Justice Centres can help you resolve a dispute quickly and for free using mediation.

Visit the Community Justice Centres website or call 1800 990 777 (freecall) for more information.

A guide to dispute resolution options

The National Dispute Resolution Advisory Council booklet Your Guide to Dispute Resolution contains more detailed information about ADR options.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Directorate

Find out about the key NSW policy body for ADR, the Alternative Dispute Resolution Directorate.

Last updated:

29 Nov 2023

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