Can Judges Mediate? CASE NOTE: Wardman v Macquarie Bank


[Free Image by Augusto Ordonez, Pixabay]

On 10 April 2019, Judge Dowdy of the Federal Circuit Court published his reasons for refusing to make a consent order that an employment law matter be referred to mediation by a Judge.

The parties in Wardman & Ors v Macquarie Bank Ltd [2019] FCCA 939 applied for consent orders to resolve some procedural matters and refer the substantive dispute to mediation by a Judge, pursuant to s 34 of the Federal Circuit Court Act 1999 (Cth) and rule 45.13B of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Rules 2001 (Cth). Rule 45.13B(2)(a) explicitly anticipates that an order referring a proceeding to mediation may order that the mediator appointed be a Judge:

…(2) The mediator for the mediation must be: (a) a Judge; or…

Nonetheless, Dowdy J contacted the parties informing them that he believed he should not make an order that a Judge act as a mediator. Instead, he made an order for a Registrar to act as mediator. His Honour’s reasoning for his refusal to appoint a Judge as mediator can be summarised by the following 3 propositions:

  1. Mediators and Judges perform distinct roles
  2. Acting as a mediator is incompatible with the Constitutional role of a Judge (and Rule 45.13B(2)(a) is invalid)*
  3. Judges are not qualified to act as mediators

1. Mediators and Judges perform distinct roles

Source of authority

  • The Constitutional power to mediate is the Conciliation power in s 51(xxxv).
  • A Judge exercises judicial power under s 71 of the Constitution.

Facilitation of consensus v determination of dispute

  • Mediators aim to resolve disputes by consensus.
  • Judicial power is an elusive concept, but at its core is the power to decide controversies (ie, to determine the outcome of disputes).

Context of decision-making

  • Mediation is typically private, confidential, informal and non-adversarial.
  • Judicial power must be administered in public and reasoning must be published. The judicial process is primarily adversarial.

2. Acting as a mediator is incompatible with the Constitutional role of a Judge

Judicial power must be exercised according to judicial process

  • Judicial process requires (with limited exceptions) open and public inquiry, application of rules of natural justice, identification of law and facts, and application of law and facts to decide the outcome (see Grollo v Palmer).
  • Mediators meet in private, sometimes with only one party at a time, do not decide facts or law, do not make decisions, mediated decisions are not required to be made according to legal principles, and neither reasons nor decisions are published.

Judges cannot perform functions incompatible with judicial power

  • Judges cannot exercise non-judicial functions that would prejudice their capacity to discharge effectively the judicial powers of the Commonwealth
  • Rule 45.13B should be read to preclude a Judge who has presided over a mediation from subsequently hearing or determining the case.

[31] If I had acted as a mediator in this case as requested by the parties I would have sterilised and rendered inoperable my judicial power to hear and determine the case. In other words, by agreeing to act as a mediator I would have undertaken a function which was incompatible with, and which would have precluded me from, discharging my obligation as a Judge to hear and determine a matter which in the regular course had be docketed to me by the registry of the Court.

Courts and Judges cannot and do not provide advisory opinions

  • Judge Dowdy referred to Plaintiff M68/2015 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection as authority for the proposition that Chapter III Courts and Judges cannot provide advisory opinions.
  • Mediators in court-connected mediations “invariably” provide advisory opinions.

[32]…parties to a mediation invariably expect the mediator to give his or her views on their respective prospects in the context of the existing or foreshadowed litigation which the mediation is seeking to obviate and on the reasonableness of any proposed settlement. This is the case whatever the kind or model of mediation being undertaken. It is particularly the case that economically weaker and more vulnerable parties desire the opinion of the mediator on such matters.

Mediation is not a traditional function of courts

  • Some functions other than the adjudication of rights were traditionally exercised by courts and therefore fell within the concept of judicial power contemplated by the authors of the Constitution. For example, administration of trust assets, winding up companies, maintenance and guardianship of infants, grants of probate, and making of rules of court.
  • The process of mediation cannot be accepted to have been a traditional or historical feature of the powers exercised by courts.

Mediation functions are distinct from judicial power

  • This proposition was confirmed by the Boilermakers case – a power to prevent and settle disputes by conciliation and arbitration is completely outside the realm of judicial power.
  • Although mediators and Judges both practise fairness, patience, courtesy and procedural fairness, only a Judge determines a justiciable issue.
  • Because the power to mediate falls outside judicial power, Dowdy J concluded that:

[38]…neither Parliament nor the Judges of this Court can make rules of court that authorise or require a Judge of this Court to act as a mediator

  • While Courts and Judges regularly encourage settlement and adjourn hearings to allow settlement negotiations to occur, it is not considered appropriate for Judges to participate in those negotiations themselves.
  • There is no inherent connection between mediation, conciliation and legal proceedings, as not all mediators are legally trained and not all mediations occur in connection with litigation.
  • Mediation is not incidental to the exercise of judicial power.

3. Judges are not qualified to act as mediators

  • Mediation is a craft that requires specific education and training, as well as accreditation and ongoing professional development.
  • Eminence, judicial ability and legal knowledge and experience do not necessarily equip Judges to act as a mediator.
  • Judicial Registrars of the Federal Circuit Court are trained and accredited mediators.
  • There are thousands of appropriately qualified and accredited mediators who could conduct private mediation at an affordable cost.
  • It is inappropriate to appoint a Judge to mediate a case merely to access the authority of the Judge to induce or extract a settlement.
  • Judges should give exclusive primacy to their judicial role rather than acting as a mediator in cases before the Court.
  • Judges have busy dockets and it is unjustifiable to take time out of the activity of judging in order to act as a mediator.
  • Judges should not risk being called as witnesses about what happened in private mediations.
  • If a Judge acting as a mediator gave an evaluation of the legal case, and a Judge acting as a Judge subsequently decided differently, the standing of Courts and Judges would be diminished.


This judgment provides some very interesting insights about court-connected dispute resolution practice. Dowdy J has lived experience as a senior legal practitioner with many years’ participation in court-connected mediation and some of his reasoning is based upon that personal knowledge. In paragraph [32] quoted above,  His Honour claimed that mediating parties, particularly weaker or more vulnerable parties, invariably expect the mediator to express views about both the likely outcome of litigation and whether or not a proposed settlement is reasonable. His Honour continued:

[33] It so happens that, in the course of my practice as Counsel over the 25 years prior to my appointment to this Court I appeared at well over 125 mediations, regularly before the pioneers of mediation in Australia, being Sir Laurence Street QC and Mr Trevor Morning QC. In my experience virtually all mediators are prepared at a mediation over which they preside to advise in general terms, both on the parties’ respective prospects of success in any litigation and the reasonableness of the proposed settlement terms. Some very few mediators may decline to give their views on prospects of success, but I have never known or heard of a mediator failing to give, either expressly or at the very least impliedly, his or her approval and approbation to the settlement which successfully concludes the relevant mediation.

His Honour returned to his strong view about what litigating parties expect from a mediator:

[55]…by not evaluating the parties’ prospects of success I would have denied to them a characteristic function expected of mediators (see [32] and [33] above) which would be provided by Judicial Registrars and private mediators.

The mediations described fall far outside the concept of facilitative mediation. If evaluation is a “characteristic function” of court-connected mediation, then this should be acknowledged properly and taken into more serious consideration in training and accreditation processes. The question of whether or not litigating parties expect this style of mediation (a) because it is what they have experienced before, or (b) because it is their preference over other styles, is also worthy of interrogation. Should facilitative mediators market their services from a point of difference, instead of assuming that facilitation is understood by prospective clients as the “standard” form of mediation?

The equating of mediation with conciliation in the judgment was the means by which His Honour located the mediation function within the Constitutional powers. The definition of mediation is hotly disputed within the dispute resolution community (as is whether Dispute Resolution is preferable to Alternative Dispute Resolution). However, this judgment raises again the question of whether or not court-connected dispute resolution of the character described and expected should more appropriately be called “conciliation”, in order for it to be distinguished from other kinds of dispute resolution practice.

There is great potential for the private mediation sector to provide affordable dispute resolution services to litigants. Judge Dowdy identified many problems with using Judges to mediate, when there is a surplus of appropriately qualified and accredited practitioners available to assist parties navigate a path to settlement. What creative ways can the mediation profession use to attract the respect and legitimacy that parties are seeking when they prefer senior legal minds to act as mediators of their disputes?

*Note: The decision specifically relates to Judges who exercise the judicial power of the Commonwealth of Australia. The Commonwealth Constitution mandates separation of judicial power and the Commonwealth legislature cannot confer non-judicial functions on Judges except those that are incidental to their judicial function (see Boilermaker‘s case). The situation is different in state jurisdictions (see Kable and Momcilovic cases).


Engaging family mediation clients for the long term in our new family law system

By Becky Batagol and Genevieve Grant, Monash University

This is a version of the paper we Presented at the National Mediation Conference Canberra, April 2019

This post comes out of a research collaboration between researchers at Monash University and mediation and family services provider, Better Place Australia. We believe this project showcases good practice in industry and academic collaboration.

It arises out of a research project investigating the outcomes and experiences of Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) clients whose last contact with Better Place Australia was 2.5-3 years previously. The project is funded by Better Place Australia, a leading provider of family and relationship services in Victoria who were seeking insight into client experience and outcomes to inform provision of best practice and evidence-based services.

The project is being conducted by our team of researchers from the Faculty of Law at Monash University, Monash Sustainable Development Institute and the Australian Centre for Justice Innovation at Monash.

This post focuses on the difficulty of obtaining long-term data on clients experience after they have left FDR and the importance of collecting such data. We are currently collecting data for this project. The data we have obtained so far is limited.

We contextualise our experiences collecting data from clients who are long finished FDR in terms of the recent Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) report, Family Law for the Future — An Inquiry into the Family Law System April 2019. This report, the first-ever whole of system review of family law in Australia’s, proposes an enhanced and better integrated role for FDR service providers and Family Relationship Centres. Such a role, we argue, requires service providers to collect data on the long-terms experiences of their clients.

We ask for readers’ comments at the end of this post about how you have engaged with past clients, especially those long-term clients and what you do with the data collected.

crystal ball

Image: Marco Verch, Blick auf einen See, CC BY 2.0

New Roles for FDR Providers in the Family Law System

In April 2019 the ALRC’s wholesale review of the family law system was released. For family law support service providers such as those running Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) and providing FDR services, the ALRC found that an increasingly complex client group requires new roles for service providers. In particular, two recommendations are most relevant here:

Recommendation 59: Family Relationship Centres should be expanded to provide case management to clients with complex needs who are engaged with the family law system.

This is an enhanced role for FRCs. The ALRC agreed with the Family Law Council that there are increasing numbers of clients seen at FRCs and in FDR services with complex needs. In 2016 the Family Law Council, in response, recommended introducing case management (recommendation 7) to better support the growing numbers of clients with complex needs seeking assistance from out-of-court family law services.

The ALRC noted that FRC work had gravitated towards FDR service provision. To an extent, this recommendation returns to the original 2006 idea of FRCs as gateways to a range of family law and other services as needed by separating families. It also echoes the Whitlam area idea of the Family Court as a helping court which would assist families experiencing breakdown with both legal and social services.

The ALRC (para 16.34) argued that “introducing case managers to FRCs would ensure that clients with complex needs receive supported referrals to relevant services identified throughout this inquiry that sit outside the family law system.”

Recommendation 60: The Australian Government should work with Family Relationship Centres to develop services, including:

  • financial counselling services;
  • mediation in property matters;
  • legal advice and Legally Assisted Dispute Resolution services; and
  • Children’s Contact Services.

This recommendation demands a more integrated role for FRCs and FDR service providers. It recommends that FRCs provide a broader range of co-located or integrated services as a one-stop to better meet the needs of families experiencing relationship breakdown. We note that some FRCs already provide a comprehensive range of services such as financial counselling, legal advice and children’s contact services.

Such case management would also include referrals to and connections with state services such as family violence and child protection services. One option for FRC service provision is that FRCs also tender for state-funded services such as family violence, housing and drug and alcohol services. This would enable service providers to paper over the jurisdictional cracks in the Australian family law system.


Better information on the long-term pathways and needs of FDR clients

A more integrated and intensive role for FRCs and FDR service providers requires better information on the long-term pathways and needs of FDR clients. Service providers will need to understand and respond to the needs of their clients as they move through the family law system and as family needs change over time. This will require data and engagement with clients over the long term.

While we have some big picture long-term data on family law service system use provided by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, we do not have service and location-specific information for FDR providers on the long-term paths of clients in the family law system.


Long-Term Studies of FDR/ Family Mediation

There is limited longitudinal research into FDR/family mediation, especially in Australia. Work in the US in the early days of divorce mediation showed promising long term outcomes for mediation compared with litigation for child custody disputes.

Pearson and Thoennes (1984) conducted an ‘experimental’ longitudinal study where participants were randomly allocated to a mediation or litigation stream to address their child custody and visitation disputes. The researchers followed up with participants three months after they obtained their final orders and about 6.9 months later (approximately 9 months after final orders). Pearson and Thoennes (1984: 510) found a that the long-term picture for mediation clients depended on whether they had reached agreement in mediation. The researchers argue that the data shows that mediation doesn’t work for everyone and that its benefits are not equally shared (Pearson & Thoennes 1984: 516-7). They state “the benefits claimed for the process seem more accurately to characterise only those who are successful in reaching agreements, rather than all who try.” (510)

Another early US study adopted a very long timeframe in its longitudinal approach to considering the benefits of family mediation (Dillon and Emery, 1996). The study involved a phone survey with participants with disputes over child custody, visitation or child support about nine years after the dispute was first brought to court. 55% of the sample could not be reached by phone (using phone numbers of themselves or family or friends) provided 9 years earlier. 14% of those contacted for follow up said that they did not want to participate in the research because they wanted to forget he painful memories of divorce or lack of time and interest.

Dillon and Emery (1996: 139-40) found that over 9 years, mediation was associated with increased visitation by children with non-custodial parents, better inter-parental communication and more involvement by non-custodial parents in decision-making. However, the 48% attrition rate in this study affects the reliability of their findings. The researchers conclude that more long-term studies of mediation and litigation samples are necessary before conclusions can be reached about the long-term effects of mediation (Dillon & Emery: 1996 : 140).

More recently in Australia, Carson, Fehlberg and Millward (2013) conducted a 3-year qualitative longitudinal study of 60 separated parents who had used FDR. The methodology employed was robust, as it contacted the same separated parents annually for three years after service provision. Remarkably low attrition rate (just 4 left the study in 3 years) because the researchers stayed in contact with respondents annually They found that where both parents were cooperative and able to negotiate, participants who accessed FDR or family law.

Carson, Fehlberg and Millward (2013) found that services where more likely to describe positive experiences and outcomes and satisfaction with the quality of the FDR services they received. However, an uncooperative, controlling and/or violent partner/ex-partner, a hostile post-separation relationship and an absence of the ability to negotiate and compromise, characterised cases where parents were dissatisfied with both the process and post-separation outcomes.


Our Current Experiences Collecting Long Term Data

With Better Place Australia, we have designed a study to investigate the longer-term outcomes of FDR service use following their engagement with Better Place. Our study is a retrospective cohort study with a longitudinal element, meaning that we are studying cohorts of FDR users over time to determine the impact of particular variables on FDR outcomes. We did not follow FDR clients throughout the time since mediation. ‘Longer term’ is defined as 2.5-3 years following last engagement with Better Place. In many cases this may be as long as 4 years since mediation took place. This is a significantly longer period than most long-term studies which tend to focus on mediation clients 12 months after mediation.

Although it is early days for our study, we have had a challengingly low response rate from clients 2.5-3 years since they finished at the service. The service provider emailed out an individually addressed request for participation to the 843 clients who were part of the 6 month cohort we were targeting. We requested completion of a 30 minute survey and invited interested people to sign up for an hour-long telephone interview. A reminder email was sent out. Phone call follow-up for bounced emails. The service provider called every person in the cohort whose email address bounced back (n=40) requesting participation.

Approximately 3 weeks later we had just 25 survey respondents, of which 16 are useful (9 further people commenced but did not provide usable data or are in progress) and six telephone interviews completed. This is a challengingly low response rate ~3% if counting all attempts at completing survey.

We are confident we will achieve a satisfactory response rate for this project. We plan to change the study cohort and involve participants who were more recent clients of Better Place Australia. We may use several other techniques to encourage participation and may supplement the data obtained with targeted focus groups.


How do we Engage with FDR Clients Over the Long Term?

There is an imperative upon FDR service providers to understand client need over the long term in any reformed family law system. This information will need to be specific to the particular client cohort seen by each FDR service provider. National large-scale longitudinal studies are less useful for this task than client and location-specific data.

Our experience collecting long-term data raises real questions about the ability of FDR service providers to engage with former clients over the long term. In our case, we attempted to recruit clients who had not been contacted by the service provider for about 2.5-3 years. Clearly this was too long.

The most successful longitudinal study of FDR, Carson, Fehlberg and Millward (2013), recruited participants while they were still engaged with the service provider and maintained annual contact throughout the three-year study period. Our funding did not permit such a methodology.

A key lesson from our experience is that service providers who wish to understand long-term client experience after FDR should maintain regular contact with former clients in ways that genuinely engages and assist clients. This is a costly exercise. Better Place plan to introduce a 3-6 month follow up survey for all former clients sent out via text message. This will be an additional cost upon the service provider, but the team expect a higher response rate as it will be less like junk email (especially for financial counselling clients).

The recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission for FRCs to adopt more integrated and intensive roles within the family law system requires long term data on specific client experiences and need. Accompanying any government contracts for new roles for FRC consortia should come funding specifically for long-term engagement with clients.

For family law clients, their journey through the formal system represents just a small part of the messiness of family breakdown. Funding for engagement with FDR clients over the long-term is a sound investment if we are to truly meet understand and meet the needs of separated families.


Your Thoughts?

We are keen for your thoughts. For those of you who are FDR providers or researchers in the field, how have you engaged with or recruited past clients, especially those long-term clients and what you do with the data you collect?

To help get you thinking, here is the final slide of our National Mediation Conference presentation, co-written with the Better Place Australia team, which stimulated a great deal of discussion at our presentation.\

BPA slides 20-19

Please comment below! We’d love to hear from you!


We are very grateful to Better Place Australia CEO Serge Sardo and the whole team there who have been such engaged and active partners in establishing, designing and recruiting participants for this research project. We are especially grateful to Graeme Westaway and Jenni Dickson from Better Place who helped prepare this National Mediation Conference presentation.

Court Managed Expert Evidence – Using ADR techniques to enhance the integrity and utility of expert evidence in the Land Court

Fleur Kingham

Fleur Kingham – President Land Court of Queensland

The National Mediation Conference 2019 continues to provide rich material for learning and reflection some weeks after the it concluded. This blogpost from Fleur Kingham, President, Land Court of Queensland provides a great taste of the challenging and thought-provoking session she delivered.

What has ADR got to do with expert evidence?

In the Land Court of Queensland, ADR objectives, skills and techniques are at the heart of its procedure for managing the pre-trial preparation of expert evidence.
With the aspiration of enhancing the integrity and utility of expert evidence, the President of the Land Court adopted Practice Direction 3 of 2018, supplemented by the Guidelines for Expert Evidence.
The procedure for Court Managed Expert Evidence, or CMEE for short, brings together two very familiar processes in civil litigation – active case management and meetings and joint reports by the experts. The innovation lies in how those processes are connected, located within a without prejudice framework and supervised by a convenor, who is either a member or the Judicial Registrar of the Court.
The impetus for this procedure is twofold – the importance of expert evidence to its cases and enduring concerns about the quality of expert evidence led before the Court.
Expert evidence is central to the resolution of most matters that come before the Land Court. It is a specialist court with jurisdiction to hear disputes about the terms of access to and compensation for use of land for mining and other resource developments, compensation for the compulsory acquisition of land, cultural heritage disputes and appeals about land valuations. Expert evidence is involved in nearly all cases and, in some, the only issues in dispute involve expert evidence.
The Court has the same concerns that have motivated courts and tribunals to become increasingly interventionist in the management of expert evidence. Those concerns include bias (conscious or unconscious), the complexity of the information, the incomprehensibility of technical reports, and the risk of competing expert reports passing like ships in the night.
The CMEE Convenor’s role is procedural, facilitative, neutral, and expert. The CMEE Convenor cannot decide any substantive matter and cannot make directions without the parties’ consent. They facilitate communications about pre-trial preparation of expert evidence and seek to build consensus between the parties and their lawyers about the necessary steps. It is expert in the sense that the CMEE Convenor is an expert in the Land Court’s procedure and has content expertise in the Court’s jurisdiction. It is not evaluative, except to the extent that suggestions about process might involve the Convenor applying their expertise to help the parties move through process stalemates.
The objectives of the CMEE process are familiar to an ADR practitioner:
• To resolve, reduce and manage disagreements to a minimum; and
• To prepare for either mediation or more focussed preparation for the trial with reduced issues.
The Convenor uses the ADR skills of convening, facilitating, and managing disputes. The CMEE Convenor assists the experts during their meeting process to understand their role and the Court’s expectations. They facilitate the experts’ discussions and preparation of their joint expert report. In Queensland, once the experts start their meeting, they must proceed without further instruction from the lawyer/party who engaged them. This can create a dilemma if the experts need further instruction or information or need more time to complete their work. The CMEE Convenor can facilitate communications with the lawyers as a group. This ensures the confidentiality of the expert evidence process is not a barrier to meaningful communication and further instruction (without inappropriate influence) where required.
The CMEE Convenor also facilitates communications between the experts and the lawyers/parties and the Court. The CMEE Convenor will identify when something needs to be taken from the expert meeting to the lawyers for direction. The CMEE Convenor will also ensure that any matter that needs to be resolved on the record can be brought back to the member managing the case.
ADR techniques are central to the work of the CMEE Convenor: to clarify, find common ground and to explore solutions. The CMEE Convenor does not mediate a resolution between the experts. They use constructive controversy to encourage deliberative discussions aimed at creative problem solving. The CMEE Convenor ensures the experts address the same issue, with reference to the same material and that, if they differ, it is clear why they differ and to what extent. Many differences between experts, at the end of the day, prove to be immaterial to their ultimate opinion. The CMEE Convenor encourages the experts to identify what differences between them are material to the outcome of their opinion.
The CMEE process is relatively new. An international team of ADR academics will evaluate it in due course. To date, CMEE appears to be well received by the parties/lawyers and their experts. The President considers it has resulted in more focussed preparation of better quality expert evidence.

Can Poetry teach us about Mediation?

NMC2019One of the best features of the national Mediation Conference 2019, with 7 separate streams jam-packed with sessions, was the extraordinary variety of themes and presenters.
Days after the conference has ended I am still revisiting the ideas that were shared and the challenges to my view of what ADR is and might be.

BrysonIt is probably unsurprising that David Bryson, a colleague with qualifications in Politics, History, Psychology, Social Anthropology and Organisational Change signaled his intention to present us with a decidedly different conference session.
He described his surprise when the NMC organising committee accepted the idea he had proposed (somewhat provocatively) for this session – and his subsequent challenge to deliver something that until then had been just a playful idea.
Session participants, were surprised also – but certainly not disappointed.

Bryson bookA published poet himself, David delivered a session on ‘ADR Lessons from the Art of Poetry’ (subtitled (Poetry Lessons from the art of ADR).
His idea was that in some ways ADR and poetry share the same space although they have different frames.
He used the example of how poetry and ADR both rely heavily on words and on navigating meaning through the use of metaphor, with poetry adding the influence of imagination.
He used the language of ‘encode’ (from the deliverer) and ‘decode’ (from the receiver) to explore the intention/reception dynamic which is often a significant element in a mediation process. He engaged us further by sharing some lines of poetry which invited the audience to explore the intricacies of language.
Bryson used the unexpected concept of ‘sweet and correct formality’ to continue his exploration of concepts linking poetry and mediation.

New language for mediators
He developed this idea through his notion of ‘the ‘thoughtful machinery’ of poetry, giving us:
• Structure of lines
• Rhythmic energy and
• Repetitive sounds
He demonstrated how we can also find the ‘sweet and correct formalities of mediation’ where:
• Words are channeled in form and purpose in process
• Language is directed into negotiation elements
• Interpretations [need to be] filtered for heuristics and mind tricks and
• Social dynamics of conflict [can be explored]
We were certainly being engaged in a very different but compelling frame in which (using unexpected analyses) Bryson described mediation and poetry as sharing the common elements of:
• Multi-level meanings
• Emotional drop, below the surface
• Images of truth about humans enlivened to take greater weight; especially by the use of metaphors.

Learning from poetry
Using extracts from a series of poems, Bryson encouraged us to explore these elements – an analytical framework quite different from more conventional analytical frameworks that we are accustomed to bring into mediations with us.
Continuing his theme of comparisons he gave 3 further examples:
Multi- level meanings (using poetry to encourage our exploration of a range of possible meanings)
The emotional drop (through naming and listening)
The use of metaphors
This example was the most powerful – exploring, through the language of poetry, how mediators change the frame by changing the metaphor. A memorable example was changing the metaphors of conflict from war or entrapment (such as armed with the facts; between a rock and a hard place) to journeying and collaboration (such as first steps towards an agreement; where do we go from here?).
Bryson finished by encouraging us to think about becoming poet mediators. A big challenge and one that seemed to be taken up very energetically at the Poetry Slam – a very unexpected highlight and hotly contested highlight of the Conference Dinner.

ADR Research discussed at the NMC 2019 PhD Session

The PhD Session at the just concluded National Mediation Conference featured John Woodward, Joe Harman, Joanne Clarke and Jackie Weinberg discussing their PhD research topics. The discussion was interesting and stimulating and each research topic makes a positive contribution to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) theory and/or practice.


Judge Joe Harman discussed his research which explores the nature of mediation confidentiality and the interaction of mediation confidentiality with family violence. So far, two papers have been published on the origins of mediation confidentiality and attitudes of mediators and others towards mediation confidentiality. The first, titled ‘Mediation Confidentiality: Origins, Application and Exceptions & Practical Implications’ is published in the Australian Dispute Resolution Journal, and the second titled, ‘An Imperfect Protection: The Attitudes of FDRPs to Mediation Confidentiality’ is published in the Bond Law Review. Forthcoming papers include on whether mediation should be the first step in all family law proceedings, and on the intersection of family dispute resolution and family violence.

Dr John Woodward’s PhD, now concluded, adopted a qualitative methodology to explore the relationship between confidentiality and disputant participation in facilitative mediation occurring in the shadow of the law where disputants are represented by lawyers. A prominent theme which emerged from the research was lawyer perceptions that disputant participation risks compromising the legal case or “giving away” confidential information which may be misused in the hands of an opponent. This perception is based on the uncertainty around the nature of mediation confidentiality and the extent of its protection. As such, disputant participation is limited. The research concludes that there is a need to do more to clarify the meaning of confidentiality so that disputants may reap the full benefits of the mediation process.

Jackie Weinberg’s PhD is studying ADR in Clinical Legal Education (CLE). The research explores whether ADR should be taught in various legal clinics across Australia; what aspects of ADR should be taught to students; why it might be valuable to teach ADR to clinical students; and in what ways teaching of ADR in the clinical context can be enhanced. Data has been collected using semi-structured interviews and observation of interaction between clinic supervisors and students. The research outcomes include theoretical insights into ADR teaching in CLE, new knowledge on ADR skills acquisition in CLE, empirical insights into how the role and impact of ADR in clinical legal education settings can be measured and recommendations pertaining to the teaching of ADR in Australian clinical legal education.

Finally, Joanne Clarke’s research explores the discourse of conflict resolution in western liberal tradition which positions ‘competing interests’ or ‘communication difficulties’ between individuals as the origins of family conflict notwithstanding that conflict is complex and contextual. Western liberal tradition’s dominant response to conflict is to apply a rational problem-solving model of conflict resolution and this has tended to ignore the complexities of people’s lives and promoted simplistic ways of viewing conflict and related concepts such as power and identity. In contrast, post-structural ideas offer a more complex understanding of conflict in the proposing of multiple realities that are culturally and historically created and challenge the idea of a universal truth. Most importantly, these theories identify the links between knowledge, language and power, highlighting how dominant discourses create conflict through privileging reality and meaning. This makes it essential for FDR practitioners to be aware of the broader social/structural origins of conflict and more importantly because many FDR matters involve family violence.

The Australian Dispute Resolution Research Network’s (ADRRN) Roundtable coming up 9-10 December 2019 provides another opportunity for ADR researchers including PhD students to discuss their research. The Call for Papers may be viewed here.

NMC 2019 Rosalind Croucher, AM, President, Human Rights Commission

We had the privilege and pleasure of an address from Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher, AM, President of the Human Rights Commission on day 2 of the National Mediation Conference.

Professor Croucher’s address included the following themes:

  • The history of Human Rights legislation in Australia and recent outcomes
  • The architecture of Human Rights complaint handling through the HRC and the central place of conciliation.

Professor Croucher traced the development of Human Rights legislation in Australia in its political context and provided an overview of the work of the Commission, summarised in the diagram below.

  • Animated infographic illustrating statistics from the article.

(Reproduced from the HRC website at: )

Professor Croucher noted that well over 1,000 conciliations had been conducted at the HRC in the last year and reflected on the significance of conciliation for the resolution of complaints her comments echo her address to the Supreme and Federal Court Judges’ Conference 2019 in Hobart, 22 January 2019.

“So much of this work of conciliation continues unnoticed and observed over the years. The reports, required in a few instances, and only in cases of human rights complaints or ILO 111 discrimination, may attract attention—at times—because they do become public of necessity, even though the names may be protected through pseudonyms. Publicity may also happen if the individuals involved in any of the otherwise confidential processes decide not to keep them confidential.

But the Commission’s record over the years speaks for itself. For example, if we look at the number of complaints the Commission has received and conciliated over the past 20 years, the numbers represent successful alternative dispute resolution through conciliation for more than 30,000 people and organisations.  And these are not just numbers: for every matter there is an individual who has taken the initiative, sometimes the courageous decision, of coming to the Commission.”

(Reproduced from: )

More gems from NMC 2019


The National Mediation Conference continues to offer us opportunities to share and learn. The pace has been remarkable and the overarching experience has been of inclusion and learning from each other.

The profoundly challenging moments of reflection have also been interspersed with lighter moments. Dinner at the winery was a relaxing event enlivened by the unexpected and, at times hilarious, poetry slam. I had not expected to be a participant but the audience was generous about my ‘Ode to Short People’.

Today was a particularly important day for me.

Attending the conference with my husband and two of my children who are mediators has been a gift. I never anticipated a family of mediators and it never occurred to me that one day we could all have a learning experience as colleagues.


My family of dispute resolvers- Alan Limbury, me, Emma-May Litchfield and Ashley Limbury

This morning I had the joy of being in the audience as my daughter Emma-May Litchfield presented on her current research – ‘Should emotions be considered in the design and delivery of mediation training’ – under the watchful eye of her Masters’ supervisor Dr Kathy Douglas.

We are all tired by day three so we were enlivened when Emma-May engaged the room – polling our experiences as mediators, trainers of accrediting programs and as parties is mediation processes.

She challenged us to identify our own perception of whether emotion enters the room as part of the mediation process.

A starting point of her research was the requirement contained in the NMAS standards, requiring that those seeking accreditation under the standards demonstrate an ‘ability to manage high emotion’.

The Research Process

We were introduced to Emma-May’s qualitative process of interviews with 12 accredited mediators who were also trainers in accrediting programs.

Her semi-structured approach provided consistency whilst also allowing the opportunity to explore unexpected dimensions as they arose.

This led us to an overarching question she pursued as part of her work – Is the skill of dealing with emotions part of the design of accreditation training programs?

A particularly interesting outcome of the research was that the factor that determined whether training in emotions were included in the training depended on whether the trainers thought that it was important. I found this remarkable.

We were given an explanation of what might this mean via the hierarchy developed as part of Krathwohl’s Affective Domain of Objectives.

Krathwohl's Affective Domain of Objectives

Krathwohl’s Affective Domain of Objectives

Exploring the values hierarchy Emma-May used the great analogy of the path to adoption of a plastic bag free life to demonstrate the development of values – from the most basic acknowledgement of a value to the top of the hierarchy where there is active living of values.

It’s a great sensation when your children become your teachers. I am really enjoying the learning emerging from this research.