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Supreme Judicial Court Rules

Uniform Rules on Dispute Resolution

Supreme Judicial Court Rules Uniform Dispute Resolution Rule 6: Duties of courts with respect to court-connected dispute resolution services

Adopted Date: 05/01/1998
Effective Date: 02/01/1999

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(a) Referral of cases

No court may refer cases to a provider of dispute resolution services unless the provider is an approved program included on the list developed pursuant to Rule 4(a). In all cases, courts shall inform parties that they are free to choose any approved program on the list, subject to such reasonable limitations as the court may impose, or any other provider of dispute resolution services. If the parties are unable or unwilling to choose a program from the list or another provider, a court may make a referral to a specific program on the list in which the court has confidence, whether or not the court has a contract for services with that program. The court shall make a reasonable effort to distribute such specific referrals fairly among programs on the list, taking into consideration geographic proximity, subject matter competence, special needs of the parties, and fee levels. In the alternative, a court may refer all or most of its cases requiring dispute resolution services to one or more approved programs in which the roster consists exclusively of one or more court employees or with which it has a contract for services pursuant to Rule 4(e). Notwithstanding the foregoing, a court may refer a case to a provider that is not on the list in exceptional circumstances, when special needs of the parties cannot be met by a program on the list. The judge shall report any such referral and the exceptional circumstances which required it to the Chief Justice of the department. In a criminal case, the court shall consult with the prosecuting attorney and obtain the approval of the defendant and, where applicable, the victim, before making a referral to a dispute resolution program.

(b) Screening

In civil cases, courts may require parties and/or their attorneys to attend a screening session or an early intervention event regarding court-connected dispute resolution services except for good cause shown.

(c) Time for dispute resolution

A court may establish a deadline for the completion of a court-connected dispute resolution process, which may be extended by the court upon a showing by the parties that continuation of the process is likely to assist in reaching resolution.

(d) Choice

No court shall require parties to participate in dispute resolution services without meeting the minimal requirements set forth in Rule 4(c), except that Probate and Family Courts may require parties to participate in dispute intervention. Except in a case affected by a pilot program under Rule 4(c) or a case involving such a referral to dispute intervention, the court shall inform litigants, both at the time of referral and at the beginning of the dispute resolution process, that the decision to participate in a dispute resolution process is voluntary.

(e) Space for dispute resolution sessions

Courts may, subject to guidelines issued by the Chief Justice for Administration and Management of the Trial Court, provide available courthouse space or other resources for court-connected dispute resolution services provided by approved programs. The space provided shall be sufficiently private and readily accessible. Reasonable accommodation shall be made for disabled individuals.

(f) Communication with program or neutral

(i) The court shall give a program which is providing court-connected dispute resolution services sufficient information to process the case effectively.

(ii) The program shall give the court's administrative staff sufficient case-specific and aggregate information to permit monitoring and evaluation of the services.

(iii) Communication with the court during the dispute resolution process shall be conducted only by the parties or with their consent. The parties may agree, as part of the dispute resolution process, as to the scope of the information which they, the program, or the neutral will provide to the court. Absent an agreement of the parties and subject to the provisions of Rule 9 regarding confidentiality and subparagraph (iv) below, the program or neutral may provide only the following information to the court: a request by the parties for additional time to complete dispute resolution, the neutral's assessment that the case is inappropriate for dispute resolution, and the fact that the dispute resolution process has concluded without parties' having reached agreement.

(iv) At the conclusion of conciliation or dispute intervention, the program or neutral may communicate to the court recommendations, a list of those issues which are and are not resolved, and the program's or neutral's assessment that the case will go to trial or settle, provided that the parties are informed at the initiation of the process that such communication may occur.

(g) Data collection

The court, in collaboration with the approved program or programs to which it refers cases, shall develop a system to record accurately and compile regularly data sufficient to track cases, monitor services, and provide any information required or requested by the applicable Trial Court department chief justice or the Chief Justice for Administration and Management.

(h) Intake and selection

Every court shall evaluate cases to ensure that they are appropriate for dispute resolution based on the case selection criteria of the applicable department developed pursuant to Rule 4(b).

(i) Inappropriate pressure to settle

Courts shall inform parties that, unless otherwise required by law, they are not required to make offers and concessions or to settle in a court-connected dispute resolution process. Courts shall not impose sanctions for nonsettlement by the parties. The court shall give particular attention to the issues presented by unrepresented parties, such as the need for the neutral to memorialize the agreement and the danger of coerced settlement in cases involving an imbalance of power between the parties. In dispute intervention, in cases in which one or more of the parties is not represented by counsel, a neutral has a responsibility, while maintaining impartiality, to raise questions for the parties to consider as to whether they have the information needed to reach a fair and fully informed settlement of the case.

(j) Sanctions for failure to attend sessions

A court may impose sanctions for failure without good cause to attend a mandatory screening session, an early intervention event, or a scheduled dispute resolution session.

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