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Mediation - A Practical Guide PDF Print E-mail
The following is an extract from Mediation - A Practical Guide by Sir Laurence Street. A complete version of this document can be obtained form the Knowledge Base or from Sir Laurence Street.
 
 
Mediation is an informal process aimed at enabling the parties to a dispute to discuss their differences in total privacy with the assistance of a neutral third party (mediator) whose task it is first to help each party to understand the other party's view of the matters in dispute and then to help both parties to make a dispassionate, objective appraisal of the total situation. As part of the process the mediator talks confidentially with each party. The object is to help the parties to negotiate a settlement. The discussions are wholly without prejudice. Nothing that is said by either party can be used or referred to in any later proceedings (eg. in a Court case). The mediator arranges and chairs the discussions and acts as an intermediary to facilitate progress towards settlement. The basic approach and underlying philosophy of mediation discussed in this Outline apply throughout the whole range of disputes.
MEDIATION — A Practical Outline

By
Sir Laurence Street


AC KCMG QC

Sir Laurence Street had a substantial practice as a commercial QC at the NSW Bar. He subsequently became an Equity Judge of the Supreme Court and later Chief Justice and Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales.

Since leaving those public offices he has carried on a solo practice as a professional mediator and disputes consultant. He

  • has conducted well over 1,500 mediations principally in major commercial disputes;
  • is the author of numerous articles and is a frequent speaker on mediation;
  • is associated with a number of leading Australian and international mediation organisations; and
  • was the Convenor and Chairman of the inaugural planning committee of the Australian Commercial Disputes Centre.
Amongst other current appointments he is

  • Chairman of the Australian Government's International Legal Services Advisory Council;
  • ADR Consultant to the Australian Defence Organisation (Defence Legal Office);
  • a Court Member of the London Court of International Arbitration and President of the Asia-Pacific Council of that Court;
  • an Australian Government Designated Conciliator to ICSID, Washington; and
  • a mediator of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Lausanne.
He has held office as Australian and World President of the International Law Association, London, and is currently a life Vice President.

In recent years he was a Director, and later Chairman, of the major Australian newspaper group John Fairfax Holdings Limited and a Director of the Australian subsidiary of the Italian Bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena.

Sir Laurence is a Companion of the Order of Australia, a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George, a Knight of St John and a Grand Officer of Merit of the Order of Malta. He is an Honours Graduate in Law from Sydney University and has three Honorary Doctorates in Law and an Honorary Doctorate in Economics from Australian Universities. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK), an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Arbitrators and Mediators Australia and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.



1. WHAT IS MEDIATION?


Mediation is an informal process aimed at enabling the parties to a dispute to discuss their differences in total privacy with the assistance of a neutral third party (mediator) whose task it is first to help each party to understand the other party's view of the matters in dispute and then to help both parties to make a dispassionate, objective appraisal of the total situation. As part of the process the mediator talks confidentially with each party. The object is to help the parties to negotiate a settlement. The discussions are wholly without prejudice. Nothing that is said by either party can be used or referred to in any later proceedings (eg. in a Court case). The mediator arranges and chairs the discussions and acts as an intermediary to facilitate progress towards settlement. The basic approach and underlying philosophy of mediation discussed in this Outline apply throughout the whole range of disputes.


2. HOW IS A MEDIATION COMMENCED AND CONDUCTED?

  1. The initiation of the process may be voluntary or it may follow a contractual or statutory obligation or an order of a court; once initiated, the actual negotiations in the process are in every respect voluntary through to the end of the mediation.
  2. Ordinarily the parties agree in selecting a mediator or seeking a nomination or appointment by an established mediation organisation. The parties and the mediator agree upon and sign a Mediation Agreement covering such matters as confidentiality and the costs of the mediation. A specimen short form Agreement is annexed. Sometimes a mediation may be. initiated and a mediator appointed by a court, tribunal or statutory procedure; special provisions may apply in some such mediations -for example those in which a specific procedure is prescribed.
  3. In most cases there is a preliminary conference or teleconference at which procedural matters are arranged. Frequently these include the parties exchanging position papers or appraisals of the dispute prior to the mediation.
  4. Mediation can be conducted at any place that suits the convenience of the parties. It requires a meeting room large enough for all participants to sit around a table. Each party needs its own separate room to use as its 'home' during the mediation.
  5. At the mediation ordinarily the parties meet in a joint session. The mediator makes an opening statement which explains the mediation process. The mediator then invites each party to outline its view of the matters in dispute. The mediator then assists the parties to identify and discuss the issues in dispute, to explore options for dealing with them and to seek solutions which suit their interests and needs.
  6. As well as meeting the parties in joint session, the mediator will confer with each party in its own room privately and in total confidence during the course of the mediation discussions. See Mediation Agreement, Cl 4. Frequently the mediator will prepare the groundwork to enable the parties to meet one-on-one to achieve or advance towards a final resolution. Likewise there may be meetings between advisers (if any) of the parties.
  7. Very occasionally feelings between the parties may be so strong that they are not prepared to meet in joint session; this does not rule out successful mediation, but it requires a more intensive inter-active role on the mediator's part.
  8. The process is endlessly flexible and will be moulded under the guidance of the mediator to suit the particular dispute in hand, the stage it has reached and the personalities of the parties.
  9. The mediator guides the course of negotiation but has no authority to make any determination or decision on the subject matter of the dispute. See Sections 4 and 5 below and Annexure: Channels of Communication.


3. HOW IS A MEDIATION ENDED?


  1. Either party is free at any time to end the mediation simply by announcing its withdrawal. This does not involve any adverse consequence such as having to pay costs or being prejudiced by anything that may have been said, or even tentatively agreed, in the course of the mediation discussions.
  2. If the mediation succeeds the parties ordinarily sign a document setting out the terms of settlement of the dispute. Oral settlement agreements are to be discouraged as they can themselves give rise to disputes. On the other hand very occasionally parties may prefer not to enter into a legally binding settlement agreement, but to be content with having re-built a relationship or achieved a satisfactory understanding regarding the matters of dispute.
  3. Sometimes, if a mediation does not succeed at the first (or a subsequenl mediation session, the parties may agree simply to suspend the mediation. If they agree later to re-activate it, this will enable the discussions to be picked up from where they left off taking into account subsequent events and re-evaluations.

4. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MEDIATORS?


They should be properly qualified as mediators and experienced in communication and negotiation in order to be able to guide the parties in their negotiations. Familiarity with and experience in the litigation process are of great assistance, but eminence in professions other than mediation is in itself not enough. Expert knowledge of the field of dispute is not essential; the requisite skills are analytical and empathetic person skills. Mediators need personal qualities that enable them to relate comfortably to each of the parties. Significant amongst these personal qualities are the humility to be non-judgemental in relation to each party's mind-set and the readiness to empathise with their respective points of view. Understanding and responding to (but not necessarily agreeing with) their individual perceptions are important pre–requisites to building with each party the relationship of trust and confidence in the mediator that will transcend into trust and confidence in the mediation process. Once the parties have developed trust and confidence in the mediator and the mediation process, the mediator will be better able to guide them along the path towards consensus.


5. HOW DOES A MEDIATOR CONTRIBUTE TO THE RESOLUTION OF A DISPUTE?


The mediator is an independent neutral who serves both parties jointly and each party separately. The object of the mediator is to inter-act with the parties (jointly and separately) and to move them through three stages:

  • the first stage focuses on opening up channels of communication between the parties; see Annexure: Channels of Communication;
  • the second stage focuses on using the channels of communication to develop bridges of understanding between the parties of each other's perceptions of the dispute and their respective strengths and weaknesses;
  • the third stage focuses on the emergence of a negotiated resolution of the dispute through practical appraisal of needs and interests.

The first two stages - communication and understanding - overlap to a greater or lesser extent. Both are directed towards enabling the parties to discuss their dispute, to exchange views and thus more fully to understand their own and, very importantly, the other party's points of view. The mediator's task is to guide and facilitate the flow of communication and to assist the parties to gain a sufficient understanding of the total dispute and of each other's respective points of view that will enable each party to make a dispassionate, objective appraisal of the total dispute situation. This can be described as taking a 'helicopter overview' of the black-grey-white continuum that constitutes the dispute. See Annexure: The Symbolism of the Logo. From that point, assisted by the guidance of the mediator, the parties move towards a negotiated resolution of their dispute.

6. WHO SHOULD ATTEND A MEDIATION?


It is of great importance that each party to the dispute participates in person in the mediation. A company, corporate entity or public authority should be represented by a senior officer with full authority to negotiate and settle the dispute. In cases where it is impossible or impracticable to have the ultimate authority present at the mediation (eg. in the case of a Government Minister or Departmental Head, a foreign chief executive or an overseas insurer) there must be adequate authority to make a contingent commitment that can responsibly be expected to be confirmed by the ultimate authority.

 

7. DO THE PARTIES NEED PROFESSIONAL OR OTHER ADVISERS?


This is a matter of choice for each party. Each party is free to bring whoever it wishes to support, assist, advise or speak for it. In simple disputes one or both parties may prefer to handle the discussions themselves under the guidance of the neutral mediator with or without the supporting presence of a friend or non-professional helper. In disputes of any complexity both parties usually wish to have their professional advisers (eg. lawyers, accountants, industry experts) present and this can be of considerable assistance in achieving a settlement. The place of professional advisers, if they are brought in, is at the elbows of their client, advising and supporting their client. If a client so wishes the professional adviser can act as spokesperson at particular stages or on particular aspects or even on the whole of the dispute.

8. ARE MEDIATION OUTCOMES BINDING?


Yes. The outcome of a successful mediation is usually an agreement for settlement. Once this is signed it is as binding and enforceable as any other contract. If the parties prefer not to enter into a legally binding settlement agreement, they are entirely free not to do so. See Section 3(b). If the mediation does not succeed neither party's rights are affected in any way.



9. WHAT ARE THE PROSPECTS OF SUCCESS IN MEDIATION?



In the significant majority of mediations the parties reach a settlement.

In the small number of mediations that fail are some in which, even though no settlement has been reached, the mediation may have clarified and narrowed the issues in dispute.

Ultimately it is for the parties to decide what settlement they can accept rather than pursuing whatever other courses that may be open to them. Each party has to ask itself whether the available mediated outcome, although disappointingly worse than it had hoped for, is nevertheless an outcome it can live with, rather than pursuing other courses open to it. The often-mentioned 'win-win' ordinarily comes not from the terms of the settlement but rather from the fact that the settlement enables both parties to put the dispute behind them.


10. WHAT IF MEDIATION DOES NOT SUCCEED?


Parties automatically have all their rights reserved when they go into mediation. The discussions in the mediation will remain confidential and the parties can freely pursue their rights unhampered by any 'baggage' from the mediation if it has not succeeded. This could include going to a court, to a tribunal or to arbitration in which a third party will impose a binding decision on the parties. Sometimes a failed mediation will produce a clearer and narrower set of issues for later decision.


11. WHAT ARE THE MAIN STRENGTHS OF MEDIATION?


Mediation has a range of potential benefits.

  • It can take place quickly and often with relatively little expense in contrast to taking the dispute to a court, to a tribunal or to arbitration.
  • It focuses on the parties' real commercial interests and emotional and psychological needs and not just on their legal rights.
  • It gives the parties an opportunity to participate directly and informally in resolving their own dispute.
  • It gives the parties control over the process itself and the outcome.
  • It exchanges the unpredictable outcome of litigation or arbitration for the certainty of a negotiated consensus.
  • It produces outcomes which are likely to endure because the parties themselves have chosen them.
  • It eliminates the conflict and hostility that nearly always accompany the compulsory decision of the dispute by a court, tribunal or arbitrator.
  • It can improve understanding between parties with an ongoing relationship.


12. CAN MEDIATION COPE WITH DIFFERENCES IN BARGAINING POWER?


Differences in power between the parties are a reality in many conflicts, and all dispute management procedures have difficulty in dealing with this reality. It has to be recognised that in some cases mediation might involve weaker parties conceding some of their rights but, as against this, any power imbalance is likely to be less oppressive at the mediation table than in a court, tribunal or arbitration. Mediation attempts to deal with power differences

  • by providing an unthreatening environment;
  • by allowing each party the opportunity to speak to and to be heard by the other party;
  • by minimising through informality oppressive or intimidatory behaviour;
  • by the mediator's neutral and impartial behaviour;
  • by not forcing any party to agree to a settlement.
The separate meetings with individual parties can serve to reassure weaker parties and to suggest to them approaches or proposals that might advance the prospects of settlement. The process of mediation and the mediator's techniques and skills are conducive towards preventing an abuse of power.


13. WHEN IS MEDIATION APPROPRIATE?


  1. Mediation is appropriate in a wide range of disputes. In fact there are few, if any, fields of civil dispute in which mediation can be ruled out as inappropriate. For example, and without limiting its scope, mediation is used extensively in business and commercial disputes, in local government and planning disputes, in insurance disputes, in partnership disputes, in industrial disputes, in professional negligence disputes, in construction disputes, in personal injury disputes and in family disputes. It is equally as well suited to multi-party disputes as it is to two-party disputes. It is increasingly being used in international commercial disputes.
  2. It is impossible to generalise as to the time when a dispute is ripe for mediation. Some are ripe very soon after they erupt and before the parties become deeply entrenched in oppositional positions and incur expenditure on costs in consolidating those positions. Some are not ripe until the parties have fought them out to the point of a judgment or award in a court or an arbitration. Between these two extremes is a continuum. The mere fact that litigation or arbitration has commenced, and even is in the course of a current hearing, does not preclude mediation being conducted concurrently. What is important is that both parties are ready to strive to arrive at a resolution through mediation, and that they are ready to strive to make a dispassionate, objective appraisal of the total dispute situation.

14. DOES MEDIATION DIFFER FROM CONCILIATION AND ARBITRATION?


There is no difference in principle between mediation and conciliation; both are often described as ADR - Alternative Dispute Resolution. Both are consensus-oriented mechanisms serviced by a neutral facilitator in which ultimate control of how to resolve the dispute rests with the parties. Some say that conciliation involves a more positive, 'hands on' approach in which non-binding expressions of opinion or suggestions may be provided by the neutral facilitator. If the parties require this approach, it can be adequately encompassed within the inherent flexibility of the process.

There is a fundamental difference between consensus-oriented mechanisms aimed at ending in the parties themselves agreeing to resolve their dispute, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, arbitration (and litigation) in which the arbitrator (or judge) imposes on the parties a decision of the matter in dispute.


15. WHAT ARE THE COSTS OF A MEDIATION?


Each party will pay whatever costs it may incur if it chooses to bring a professional adviser to the mediation. Neither party can be made to pay costs to the other party. The mediator's fee and the costs of hiring rooms in which to conduct the mediation are usually agreed in advance to be divided equally between the parties. The mediator's fee varies according to the experience and stature of the mediator and is comparable to a lawyer's fee. The mediator will always quote a fee in advance and it will be included in the Mediation Agreement.
 
 

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