On September 29th, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, which has a presence on both sides of the border, held a conference in a Belfast hotel to look at commercial disputes from a variety of different contexts but with one common theme; resolving the dispute without the need to go to court.
The conference was opened by the Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (Irish Branch ) Pat Brady who introduced the keynote speaker; the Minister for Justice in Northern Ireland, David Ford MLA who re-iterated his support for alternative dispute resolution and highlighted the fact that the issue was given prominence in the recently published ‘Review of access to justice in Northern Ireland’.
As cross-border disputes were the underlying theme of the conference the issue of how the cross border mediation Directive has been transposed on both sides of the border was something that legal expert Nicola White did with great skill and dexterity. (Ms White was the legal expert to the Law Reform Commission report on mediation).
In these straitened financial times the issue of employment law is never far from the headlines especially if it involves a dispute and Ciara Fulton from Tughan Solicitors walked the audience through the intricacies of the differences north and south regarding the machinery of employment dispute resolution.
A subject that is perhaps less prominent in everyday life is that of disputes in a sporting context and Dr Jack Anderson from Queens university spoke passionately and authoritatively as he addressed the use of alternative dispute resolution in a sports context including everything from rugby to boxing.
From sport to something completely different as Ed Quigg from Quigg Golden enthralled the conference with his sharp analysis of the ADR landscape in a construction law context on both sides of the border with a view to recent and future legislative developments.
The conference was then delighted to hear from the Honourable Justice Gillen, judge of the N. Ireland High Court who has been a long time advocate of forms of alternative dispute resolution, but especially mediation. Justice Gillen spoke of how, as a judge, he could see the merits of properly trained and accredited mediators in the context of both family and commercial disputes and he talked of his hopes to see such systems become integral to the way disputes are resolved.
The conference was closed by the President of the Law Society for Northern Ireland, Mr Brian Speers who has been perhaps locally the most well known promoter and long time advocate of the use of alternative dispute resolution.
The President spoke candidly and authoritatively on what needed to be done to ensure ADR in Northern Ireland became something more akin to the rule than the exception. As serendipity would have it the President was unexpectedly joined by his Australian counterpart, Mr Alex Ward who acted as an impromptu closer of the conference with antipodian anecdotes regarding ADR “down under”.
The conference audience was left in little doubt that ADR has reached critical mass as a concept which stands outside the system and now is the time for it to come in from the cold. The Irish Branch and NI Chapter of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and the audience considered the conference a great success and perhaps the building block for future or indeed annual cross-border conferences.
(Thanks to Mark McAllister, Convenor, N. Ireland Chapter of CIArb irish Branch who prepared this report)