Dr Becky Batagol is a Senior Lecturer at Monash University and voluntary director of mediation and counselling organisation, FMC Victoria. Becky is an academic and her primary professional identity is as a researcher.
Why did you become interested in the dispute resolution field?
My involvement in dispute resolution was an accident. I had a contract to start my articles of clerkship at a small commercial law firm in Melbourne. Just prior to starting my job, I was bored and went out to Monash University, where I had recently finished my law degree. I saw one of my former lecturers, Professor Marcia Neave (now Chair of the Royal Commission into Family Violence in Victoria) who told me about a scholarship she was offering for a PhD in family mediation. I hadn’t studied dispute resolution or family law but wanted to do work examining gender and law. I started my doctorate and realised how important and overlooked the study of dispute resolution is, in a litigation-centric legal system.
What is your particular area of dispute resolution research interest?
That’s a hard question because so much about dispute resolution interests me. I am interested in understanding more about how to ensure that dispute resolution meets the needs of participants, provides fair solutions and protects vulnerable negotiators. These are questions about the quality and integrity of the dispute resolution process. They are important questions because our justice system is set up to help address these questions in relation to litigation, but so little has been done on a system-wide basis to address these questions in dispute resolution processes which are increasingly mandated by government.
I know the most about family dispute resolution (FDR), because that’s where I did my PhD research and in the decade since then, I have written two reports for the federal Attorney-General’s Department which have covered aspects of FDR (Family Violence and Family Law in Australia and Research on Family Support Program Family Law Services). I am on the board of a major FDR provider in Victoria, FMC Victoria.
Whose research has influenced you? Why/How?
In Australia, I have for a long time admired the work of both Hilary Astor and Rachael Field for their research integrity and for endeavouring to find high quality, theoretically informed solutions for hard problems in dispute resolution practice.
From the UK, I have long followed the writing of Dame Hazel Genn, whose more recent research advocates against dispute resolution as part of the justice system. Genn’s research reminds me that not every case should settle and to build oppotunities to opt out of dispute resolution into my policy proposals. There is a well-known US academic whose work I often come back to, Carrie Menkel-Meadow. Her perspective, in contrast to Genn’s is usually pro-mediation. I like Menkel-Meadow’s work for being thoughtful and cutting through the hype that often accompanies dispute resolution.
What dispute resolution research are you involved in at the moment?
My greatest project is raising my two children to be good people, aged 4 years and 8 months. I have been on maternity leave since July last year which has certainly slowed my current research, although there there still plenty in the pipeline. I am about to have an article published in the Monash University Law Review with RMIT’s Dr Kathy Douglas on lawyers’ involvement in mediation at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Last year the second edition of my book, Non-Adversarial Justice written with Michael King, Arie Freiberg and Ross Hyams came out. I wrote the chapter on ADR and also the chapter on family law processes, which both provide a broad overview of the field. Updating these chapters gave me a birds-eye view of the field and especially of developments over the last five years. I wrote a blog post setting out my thoughts after completing the book.
Where would you like to take your dispute resolution research work over the next ten years?
As governments increasingly mandate participation in dispute resolution as a solution to budget crises in the justice system, questions around fairness, process quality, rule of law and access to justice arise. You’ll find me out and about tackling some of these big questions.
What advice do you have for emerging dispute resolution researchers?
First, I would be pretty excited to meet another researcher ready to join our small and collegiate field. Then I might suggest, over a coffee, that it is hard to go past the classic rhetoric vs reality formula for researching our field, where claims about the value of dispute resolution are often overblown. Understanding more about how people actually use dispute resolution processes contributes to a policy which improves the quality of dispute resolution process.