Whatever happened to the National ADR Principles?

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In 2011 the National ADR Advisory Council (NADRAC) formulated a set of National ADR Principles (included in the 2012 publication Your Guide to Dispute Resolution) as follows:

1. People have a responsibility to take genuine steps to resolve or clarify disputes and should be supported to meet that responsibility.

2. Disputes should be resolved in the simplest and most cost effective way. Steps to resolve disputes including using ADR processes, wherever appropriate, should be made as early as possible and both before and throughout any court or tribunal proceedings.

3. People who attend a dispute resolution process should show their commitment to that process by listening to other views and by putting forward and considering options for resolution.

4. People in dispute should have access to, and seek out, information that enables them to choose suitable dispute resolution processes and informs them about what to expect from different processes and service providers.

5. People in dispute should aim to reach an agreement through dispute resolution processes. They should not be required or pressured to do so if they believe it would be unfair or unjust. If unable to resolve the dispute people should have access to courts and tribunals.

6. Effective, affordable and professional ADR services which meet acceptable standards should be readily available to people as a means of resolving their disputes.

7. Terms describing dispute resolution processes should be used consistently to enhance community understanding of, and confidence in, them.

On 14 September 2016, the ADR Advisory Council (NADRAC’s supercedent) noted in a published paper on their website that: ‘ADR is founded on ideas – it is intrinsically ideological. The ideas which underpin ADR are neither scientific nor inert – they comprise an unmistakeably value-laden set of principles’. 

ADRAC went on to ask the following questions which continue to be relevant and challenging for the DR community in Australia.

Can the principles be combined to arrive at the following four core values:

1. personal responsibility – based on the ability to make informed choices

2. proportionality – between dispute and process

3. fairness and integrity – as to process (query as to outcome)

4. public confidence.

Are there core values missing from this list?

Is ADR essentially about the provision of a process which is fair, or an outcome which is fair, or both? And whose assessment of ‘fair’ is to be applied in any instance: is it to be evaluated from the perspective of the law, society, or the participants?

Please share your views!

Acknowledgements: Fern

This entry was posted in Dispute resolution by Dr Rachael Field. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dr Rachael Field

Rachael is a Professor of Law in the Law Faculty of Bond University. Her key teaching and research interests are in legal education and dispute resolution. Rachael was awarded an Australian Learning and Teaching Council Citation in 2008 and was made an ALTC Teaching Fellow in 2010. In 2010 Rachael worked with Professors Sally Kift and Mark Israel on the development of the Threshold Learning Outcomes for Law. In 2013 Rachael and Prof Nick James published a first year law text entitled "The New Lawyer". Rachael has been a member of the First Year in Higher Education Conference organising committee since 2007 and now chairs that committee. She was awarded the 2013 Lexis Nexis Australasian Law Teachers’ Association Major Prize for Teaching Excellence and Innovation jointly with her colleague James Duffy. In 2014 Rachael was awarded an Office of Learning and Teaching national Teaching Excellence Award. Rachael has also been a member of the Women’s Legal Service, Brisbane Management Committee since 1994 and has been President of the Service since 2004. In 2010 Rachael, along with the Women's Legal Service Brisbane, was commissioned by the Federal Attorney-General to design a model of family dispute resolution for use in matters where there is a history of domestic violence. This model was implemented in 5 locations around Australia for 18 months and was evaluated by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. In 2011 and 2012 Rachael was invited by the Australian Human Rights Commission to contribute to their International Program by presenting the model to bi-lateral workshops with the All China Women's Federation. Rachael completed her PhD through the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney under the supervision of Professor Hilary Astor in 2011. Her thesis explored the notion of neutrality in mediation and offers an alternative paradigm based on professional mediator ethics. Rachael was named Queensland Women Lawyer of the Year for 2013. Research Interests • Dispute Resolution • Women and the Law • Restorative Justice • Family Law • Legal Education

7 thoughts on “Whatever happened to the National ADR Principles?

    • Thank you for sharing Teresa! I hope you find it interesting Bonnie. Thank you both for engaging with the ADR Research Network blog! If you have a contribution you would like to make please send it to me at rfield@bond.edu.au and I can post it on your behalf! Best wishes Rachael

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  1. The outcome should be just, the process fair. When taken out of the legal framework – as mediation, as one form of ADR, is – the meaning of ‘just’ and ‘fair’ take on a more subjective aspect. Legal concepts are predominantly objective. Views?

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    • Thank you so much Vesna for your comment. I agree with you! Do you think having a statement of principles can help us to understand better the subjective nature of justice and fairness in informal processes such as mediation? Vesna it would be great to receive a blog post from you if there’s something you would like to post – I can post it on your behalf. Best wishes Rachael

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  2. The post asks, “Is ADR essentially about the provision of a process which is fair, or an outcome which is fair, or both?” There are several problems with the question itself.

    First, what is meant by “ADR”? To this writer, ADR means going to court because the primary dispute resolution process, mediation, has not resulted in settlement of the underlying dispute. This is because mediation is ubiquitious in modern Australian civil dispute resolution. I think, however, the author of the question meant something different by “ADR”.

    The second problem with the question is this: Is it a question which calls for a description of how mediation actually is practised in Australia and an assessment whether it leads to fair results – that is, does it call for a descriptive answer? Or is it a question about how mediation should be practised in Australia – that is, does it call for a normative answer based on moral norms about how the practise of mediation should be conducted?

    If the question is a normative one, it leads to two more questions: First, who laid down these moral norms, and by what authority did they do so? Second, and equally fundamental, why should we assess mediation by moral norms at all? We don’t normally assess the practice of civil dispute resolution by moral norms; no, we assess it by criteria such as efficiency, cost, access, speed, compliance with the rules of natural justice, and so on. Why should mediation be different?

    The third problem with the question “Is mediation about a fair process or about a fair outcome?” is the biggest one: It assumes that mediation is fair (descriptive) or should be fair (normative). It doesn’t admit the possibility that mediation might not be about fairness in either sense. You’re saying, I know, “Hang on, of course mediation is meant to be fair; that’s why people do it rather than going to court.”

    I have two sorts of bad news for you. The first bad news is that in any particular case, the question “Is mediation fair?” is unanswerable, for lots of reasons. The biggest reason is that the parties will disagree about what’s fair. That’s why they’re having a mediation in the first place. If they could agree about what’s fair, they wouldn’t need a mediation or a mediator. Given this and the fact that mediations always are conducted in private, even if a third party could find out the outcome of a particular mediation, how could they form an opinion as to whether it’s fair?

    The second piece of bad news is that my empirical observation, based on mediating for 30 years, is that parties to a mediation aren’t participating in the mediation because they think it’s a fair process and/or one that will lead to a fair outcome. They’re mediating because, and mediation works because, they are worried stiff about continuing the underlying legal proceedings. They are worried because litigation is very expensive, very destructive of relationships, very time-consuming and drawn-out and – most scary of all – very unpredictable as to result, with costs usually following the very unpredictable result. Losing means you get nothing out of the proceedings except the obligation to pay not only your costs but also the winner’s costs.

    So the reason they are mediating is to mitigate the huge risks inherent in conducting civil litigation. To put it bluntly: Many parties to civil litigation can’t afford to lose – but they have no way of knowing with any certainty whether they will lose or win. They are looking for a way to avoid taking the risk of losing.

    Some parties are even worse off: They can’t afford to run the legal proceedings to judgment but neither can they afford to call a halt to the proceedings, because a party who discontinues proceedings almost always has to pay the costs to date of the other side. They are caught in a costs trap, from which they need to find an escape. Mediation offers hope of an escape.

    What this means in practice is that fairness is not a concept that’s relevant in mediation. Typically, a party will settle at mediation if the settlement being offered to them is better than the risk-laden nightmare of continuing the underlying legal proceedings. That’s the calculus that drives mediations towards settlement in my experience. It means that a lot of cases settle on terms that might shock outsiders: Plaintiffs sacrifice their causes of action and claims for damages in exchange for being released from the obligation to pay the defendant’s costs. Defendants who could defeat the plaintiff’s claim at trial pay plaintiffs to go away – because, the defendant knows, it will cost a lot of money to defeat the plaintiff’s claim but those costs won’t be recoverable from the plaintiff. So, as long as the case can be settled for less than the defendant’s irrecoverable costs, it’s cheaper to settle than to win the case. Fairness doesn’t enter the picture.

    So can we abandon questions about fairness in mediation as irrelevant? They only distract attention from difficult and important questions about mediation, such as:

    * Why does mediation work?
    * How does mediation work?
    * How can I effectively represent a client at mediation?
    * What are the ethical limits on my advocacy at mediation?

    Robert Angyal SC
    4 July 2021

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  3. Core value 3. fairness and integrity – as to process (query as to outcome),
    I would add as part of integrity, the value of respect for a party’s right to privacy through confidentiality.
    Occasionally participants in mediations that attract media attention fail to show respect for the process. Privacy ought be safeguarded, especially in face of media attention. This goes to another core value – public confidence.
    Michael Hollingdale, Mediator WA

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  4. Pingback: Is Fairness Relevant to Mediation? A Reply to Angyal | The Australian Dispute Resolution Research Network

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