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Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) 18/01/2021

Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in which an independent, impartial expert evaluator provides a preliminary view on a case, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the parties' respective cases. The evaluator, who is often a senior lawyer, barrister, judge, retired judge or Queen's Counsel (QC) will hear submissions from both parties and offer their considered opinion on the likely outcome were the matter to proceed to trial. This enables the parties to form a view on whether the outcome they are seeking is realistic, and the opinion can then inform future negotiations as to settlement of the case.

Setting up ENE is within the control of the parties and does not follow a set procedure. Initially parties will agree to seek to appoint an ENE evaluator as a single joint expert and for court proceedings to be adjourned pending the outcome of the evaluation. The cost of the instruction would usually be shared between the parties. They would then agree the questions and issues to be put to the evaluator in a joint letter of instruction, also outlining the jointly agreed procedure to be following throughout the ENE process. Documents will be submitted by both parties to the evaluator prior to the ENE hearing taking place. These are likely to include a statement of issues, a case summary, chronologies and any associated written submissions.

The view of the ENE evaluator is without prejudice – that is, it cannot be brought to the attention of the court during proceedings and is inherently non-binding. The parties may, however, formally agree to be bound by the decision of the evaluator to avoid lengthy negotiations thereafter. Alternatively, they may wish to use the ENE to guide their future negotiations.

There are a number of ways for parties to seek legal resolution to matrimonial disputes. Those choosing the ENE process are likely to be attracted by the flexibility of the process and the relative amount of control parties can have over it, which may well translate into reaching resolution more quickly than they might otherwise. There is also likely to be a significant costs reduction in comparison to litigating through the court, assuming parties agree for the ENE judgement to be binding or settle quickly on the basis of the evaluator's opinion. An ENE is also confidential which may reassure parties who are keen to resolve their dispute without publicly available records thereof, or indeed any media attention.

For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.

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Manor Law Ltd, trading as Manor Law Family Solicitors, is a registered company in England and Wales - number 07977350, and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority - Hertford office SRA number 567506 and City of London office SRA number 568637. Copyright © Manor Law, 2016. All rights reserved.

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