Last week saw Scottish Mediation’s third breakfast seminar where we’ve been presenting information about our report, Bringing Mediation into the Mainstream in Civil Justice in Scotland.
We thought it was important to let people know about our report and to hear what people think about it, what they would like to see, and to discuss how we can take the recommendations forward.
Our venue seemed appropriate as we were at the University of Dundee, which runs a degree and diploma course for law students. Out of the window we could see the Sheriff Court, various solicitors offices, the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Relationships Scotland office, a number of schools in Dundee where we have trained students in mediation skills, and, in the room, a number of mediators from the university’s Early Dispute resolution service were present. Never mind City of Discovery, it was a City of Mediation.
During our three seminars to date we have been given great feedback and ideas from those who have attended. One of the points raised was that any introduction of mediation needs to take account of the type of case and recognise, for example, that family cases run differently in mediation.
Compared to commercial mediations, they rely less on formal agreements at the end, whereas that is usually the norm in commercial cases. It is also a lot more common for lawyers to support clients at the mediation in commercial ones than in family cases.
Such feedback supports the reports approach, making sure that we learn from what works and also that, in implementing proposals, different approaches are taken into account.
At the seminar there was also a law student who has just completed her diploma in Legal Practice and is about to commence a traineeship with a law firm.
She commented that it would have helped her to have mediation as a core part of her law degree. She also felt that being given the skills of mediation would significantly benefit her interactions with clients regardless of which dispute resolution mechanism was being used.
At our Edinburgh seminar an offer was made to meet with people who have used mediation to gain further insight into how they felt it had worked to help inform how proposals are taken forward.
The offer was also made by another organisation to help map the likely user journeys that lead to the courts, to see the best ways of making mediation a part of that process. We would view both of these as a great opportunity, as such insight would help us to make sure we get it right.
In Glasgow, the point was made that the courts don’t always deal well with cases involving domestic violence and that a concern was that cases might be asked to mediate when it was not appropriate.
One of the mediation organisations commented that, on occasion, they had to refer cases back to the court and that more comprehensive training in awareness around domestic violence and controlling behaviour would be of benefit across the court system.
Our view is that involving people with expertise in this area in developing the systems used to introduce mediation will help mitigate any risks along with comprehensive awareness and skills training for those dealing with family cases.
One of the points raised in Edinburgh was that, without mainstream exposure through film and TV, it would be difficult to get a wider understanding of what mediation is and how it works.
People generally understand how litigation works due to seeing lots of legal dramas on TV, even if it’s sometimes American court procedures that are covered. No one had an immediate solution to this but someone said they were off to the BBC to make a pitch.
Scottish Mediation will look to use the feedback we have gained from our roadshows, the research in our report, and the response to MSP Margaret Mitchell’s Mediation Bill consultation to promote a collaborative discussion on how we can make the proposals a reality. That will involve a range of people, including the Government, the court service, the Parliament, the legal profession and – I would imagine – a few more roadshows.
Graham Boyack, director, Scottish Mediation.