Mr Chairman, Deputies and Senators,
Thank you for inviting us here today.
As you will have seen the CIArb is a worldwide body and the largest of its kind solely dedicated to alternative dispute resolution, (ADR) including here in Ireland.
While we have outlined our comments on the Bill, which in general we welcome and will be happy to answer any questions I thought it might be helpful to the committee to make some general comments on alternative dispute resolution which might provide context and also indicate the opportunity represented by the Mediation Bill.
ADR including mediation has a long tradition, some would say back to Solomon, the Romans had an arbitration system known as the compromessum, Chaucer refers to a mediator in the Canterbury Tales (appropriately named Prudence) and the first arbitration board in history, some say, was set up in Dublin in 1705, the Ouzel Galley Society.
And surveying the current landscape there is increasing acceptance of the potential of ADR as a means of providing effective, quick and cheap solutions to problems arising in business, in the workplace, and elsewhere.
Just looking briefly at some recent, and some imminent developments.
In 2010 we had a new Arbitration Act. This strengthened the power of the arbitrator, and therefore the arbitration and limited the extent of court intervention and supervision.
The Construction Contracts Bill which had its second reading in the House on May 3rd aims to provide rapid, binding, if interim solutions to disputes arising in the construction sector.
We have transposed on both parts of the island, here in the Republic in 2011 the EU Directive on transnational mediation.
Somewhat outside this process the government is radically overhauling the disputes resolution machinery in relation to employment rights and disputes.
One of our members, Bill Holohan, produced a comprehensive document in relation to ADR in Ireland entitled “ADR in Ireland, 2010 and Beyond”, for the benefit of the Diploma Programme of the Law Society, and we will leave a copy of that with you, which will give you a complete overview.
In the context of EU developments it is also worth noting that by January 2015 two further measures are proposed to give consumers access to alternative dispute resolution ‘vehicles’ as the papers refer to it, in relation to complaints one of these specifically related to on-line purchases. Of course, this in addition to existing statutory protections.
And indeed this is the point. There is a recognition in all these initiatives that traditional legal remedies are insufficiently effective, either because they are too cumbersome or too costly. (The EU estimates that unresolved customer complaints cost 0.4% of EU GDP).
While the Oireachtas Committee must understandably address the detail in the Bill and we will turn to that briefly in a moment, we have concerns that the great potential represented by this movement may fail to realise its potential for the want of public awareness of its availability and potential.
Part of the mission of CIArb is to promote ADR and in meetings with a wide cross section of business, trade union and other players the overwhelming reaction to the thought that effective ADR clauses might be an insurance policy against litigation is incredulity, even among legal practitioners, who ought to know better. This is obviously in the context of sectors where it has not been tradition to use ADR, which is most of them.
In November 2012 we held an event with the World President of CIArb Professor Doug Jones on the topic “ADR in Australia; lessons for Ireland.” The biggest lesson to emerge from this was that in Australia ADR, mediation, arbitration is primarily client driven. Clients tell lawyers they want mediation or other ADR vehicles, not the other way around. We believe that that is the way things should be, and we should move towards educating the public who will inform the lawyers.
The welcome provisions in this bill requiring lawyers to inform clients of the ADR option and mediation in particular are only one half of the picture. Business organisations, consumer groups, citizens advice services, the trade union movement need to be brought up to a point where they clearly and fully understand the potential of this Bill to make their lives easier when disputes arise.
When the Automatic Referral to Mediation Pilot Scheme was introduced at London Central County Court research (by Prof Hazel Genn, 1998*) showed that in approximately 80% of cases one or both parties objected to it.
“Other research shows that people are not as enthusiastic about mediation as the government, the judges and the mediation community think they ought to be’ Paul Randolph, New Law Journal April 2010
I now invite my colleague Bill Holohan to comment further
I am a practising solicitor and I have been for almost 30 years and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. However, I appear before you today, so to speak, as a repentant solicitor and arbitrator.
Having spent many years engaging in litigation, and having studied Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” with a view to becoming effective in legal battles, and having also learned one of the lessons of Machiavelli that one should never leave a wounded prince on the battlefield, I came to the conclusion about five years ago that there had to be a better way.
Padraig Pearse said that education was the murder machine. He was wrong. Litigation and the legal system is the murder machine. I’ve seen people bitterly divided as a result, not just of the issues that drive them to litigation in the first instance, but because of the litigation process itself and I have seen this in the areas of family disputes, commercial disputes, partnerships, franchisors, neighbours, the voluntary sector, etc.
Having had a Pauline conversion, I became an Accredited Mediator five years ago, and a strong advocate of mediation in particular, as the preferred ADR method. I was one of the founders of the www.commercialmediators.ie Group and since being elected to the Committee of the Chartered Institute have worked on mediation issues in particular.
If I can headline one aspect of the Bill, in particular, it would be this.
We need to ensure that clients are fully informed, not only about the ADR option and mediation in particular, but more particularly, how effective it can be, and the benefits of it in terms of savings on legal costs, time, energy, and emotion that could be better directed elsewhere.
Consequently, it would not be enough simply to have a provision in the bill requiring that a solicitor certify that they had “discussed with” or “informed” the client about the ADR option, as is the situation in family law, legislation, for example.
The client should be required to swear an affidavit, confirming that not only have they considered the ADR option, but they have discounted/disregarded it for specified reasons, and that should ultimately be taken into account, in the event of the matter proceeding to litigation. You cannot force the horses to drink, but there should be ample opportunity for the horses to linger by the lakeside and appreciate the opportunity.
(Anne-Marie Blayney then addressed some of the specific points on the Bill in our submission as outlined in previous blog)
*“The Central London County Court – Pilot Mediation Scheme Evaluation Report”, Lord Chancellor’s Department Research Series No. 5/98