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Rural Farmers adopt SAS tactics

Agri Advisor column by Dr Nerys Llewelyn Jones, Managing Partner

We recently welcomed the introduction of the Simplified Arbitration Service (SAS) by the Royal institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) (also referred to as a Fast Track Arbitration). The new service has been introduced following increased criticism of the previous arduous, costly and archaic process of taking matters through arbitration. We have found the lighter touch procedure does indeed recognise that rural disputes require a different approach to commercial and construction Arbitrations.

We recently undertook the first arbitration following this new procedure on behalf of the tenants of a Mid Wales hill farm and we encouraged our clients to adopt the new transparent and even-handed approach. We welcomed the informality and conciseness and confirm that the process significantly brought down the normal cost of this rural rent review dispute. The costs of the Arbitrator were capped at £3,000 plus VAT by agreement with the Arbitrator, and an agreement between the parties that the cost would be divided equally between the parties, irrelevant of the outcome, which included the Arbitrator’s time at a one-day hearing.

Draft directions were agreed by the parties at the outset to include a stay for negotiations, a phase that we would urge all those embarking on the process to foster. A ‘without prejudice’ meeting between parties was held during this period of abeyance to attempt to resolve issues, and agree points of agreement. The stay also enabled parties to factor in the difficult political climate in which the arbitration process took place.

The adoption of the fast track option almost certainly reduces the input of the Arbitrator in facilitating the proceedings, in turn keeping costs down. Parties opted to include only expert witness evidence, skeleton arguments and witness statements if that evidence was deemed necessary. This SAS process retains structure and a defined timetable allowing the Arbitrator to deal with parties whose actions may delay and increase costs.

We would certainly promote utilising this procedure as a cost effective and efficient tool in dealing with rental review disputes going forward.

The tenant who embarked on this process said, “I would say that the new ‘simplified’ Arbitration is a real step forward. The actual Arbitration was concise, honestand easy to understand, and I hope it will continue into the future.”

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