New Mediation Bill to Expand the Use of Mediation in Civil Disputes
The Minister for Justice and Equality recently published a Draft General Scheme of a Mediation Bill which introduces a legislative framework for mediation to provide enforceable solutions to a wide range of civil disputes. Simply put, mediation is a structured process whereby two or more parties to a dispute attempt to reach agreement on the settlement of their dispute with the assistance of a mediator.
Mediation is a flexible, private and voluntary way of resolving disputes which focuses on the interests of the parties, rather than the more formal processes at court where disputing parties are pitted against each other to determine whose rights should trump the other.
If used appropriately, mediation can be highly beneficial, and can have advantages over litigating in court. Disputing parties can come to a greater understanding of each others’ views, leading to improved or restored relations. Grievances can be aired away from public view, and creative solutions to disagreements can be tailor-made to the parties’ needs and interests. Rather than the public, confrontational nature of a court hearing, parties are encouraged to work together to seek common ground, and to proactively seek a fair and pragmatic settlement for the benefit of all parties in so far as is possible in the circumstances.
The Mediation Bill, as currently drafted, introduces an obligation on solicitors and barristers to inform clients prior to commencing court proceedings about the possibility of using mediation as an alternative. It also provides a statutory basis for the courts to invite parties to consider mediation and to adjourn court proceedings while it is being considered. Where parties enter into mediation, this must be done entirely at their own discretion and costs associated with mediation must be reasonable and proportionate. All communications during mediation shall be confidential. The Bill also provides that the Minister may introduce a Code of Practice for the purpose of setting and maintaining standards for the provision and operation of mediation services.
Mediation is currently used in various guises to resolve family disputes, certain employment disputes and commercial disputes. MLRC has already had a number of successful mediation outcomes in equality cases at the Equality Tribunal Mediation Service against local authorities on behalf of clients. MLRC would support the introduction of a designated mediation service as a suitable tool for resolving disputes between individuals and local authorities in relation to social housing issues. This could cover a range of disputes including eligibility for and access to social housing, transfer requests and eviction proceedings.
The Draft General Scheme of the Mediation Bill can be viewed here.
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