Last week I had what could either be described as a ‘crash course’ or maybe perhaps more correctly an ‘intensive revision course’ in European mediation. As is clear from previous blogs here, mediation is something I have always felt an affinity towards without perhaps understanding all the ins and outs of its practice; rather just knowing instinctively that it could be an important tool for the improvement of justice and indeed for society at large. After three events in three European capitals I am now totally convinced. Indeed, it has been in part amusing, but in many senses equally serious, to hear some people in the mediation community described as ‘evangelists’ for their métier. I can see that it could begin to get to you in that way.
I spoke at two conferences, one in Paris and one in London, and in between attended my first board meeting of the International Mediation Institute in The Hague which also involved an after dinner speech to an audience of business, justice ministry and academic invitees. All this provided an incredible possibility to meet with mediation practitioners both from all around Europe and indeed from the wider world. It was also a chance to meet in a different role many of those who have been part of the EU process, which has lead to the Mediation Directive and hopefully beyond.
First some observations on the Paris and London conferences. In some ways it was perhaps strange that the London conference should have been the place where the greater emphasis was placed on mediation education: both for law students and in schools. A mediation approach is counterintuitive to most litigation lawyers and students, but it should not be. Mediation can, of course, at best not only solve the dispute but, also, often mend or strengthen the broken relationship between the parties. Surely that should be the place where most clients want to end up and to achieve that in the most cost effective and quick manner? Perhaps the point is that in the UK we have become more sold on the idea of mediation because of the blatantly antagonistic and adversarial nature of our legal system. The contrast is so stark and the potential gains so much more obvious. That is not to say that there are not many lawyers and other guardians of our common law system who probably still see mediation as some sort of threat.
Likewise at the Paris conference it was surprising but perhaps predictable that one of the closing speeches should have come from a philosopher turned mediator. The starting point in an investigatory civil law justice system can be very different, but so often the end point is the same; how do we get to a better more humane quality of justice?
In The Hague amongst the IMI board there are a number of American accents. Again, interestingly, the US and UK have a tendency to be described as ‘mature’ mediation markets. I am not so sure about that. Indeed, it was interesting to hear from one of our Arab colleagues, from one of the troubled countries of that region, how his grandmother was an acknowledged community mediator. Maybe the ‘mature’ markets have something to learn from cultures elsewhere?
After all this I have returned again to the reflection I have made before: surely our current national justice systems are outmoded for contemporary society? To me our current system is rooted in medieval justice, which reached an outcome sometimes after trial by battle or more frequently by ordeal. The latter process even if it had a winner normally left them either physically maimed for life – or even dead. Looking at our current traditional systems they have an equally propensity to leave parties financially broke, and emotionally and psychologically scarred. Is that how we really want our society to deliver 21st century justice?
Our society more than ever needs a form of justice that is conciliatory and healing, perhaps it is no coincidence that some mediation training providers have seen a sudden increase in students from Greece…