About Jonathan Crowe

Jonathan Crowe is Professor of Law at Bond University. His research explores the philosophical relationship between law and ethics, looking at issues such as the nature and foundations of legal obligation and the role of ethics in legal reasoning.

The central role of party self-determination in mediation ethics

Written by Professors Rachael Field and Jonathan Crowe. The post is a version of a paper delivered at the 6th ADR Research Network Roundtable, 4 -5 December 2017.

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The dominant paradigm of mediation ethics has traditionally given a central role to the notion of mediator neutrality. However, this focus has been criticised in recent decades for being unrealistic and overlooking the power dynamics between the parties. In our forthcoming book, Mediation Ethics: From Theory to Practice, we advocate a new paradigm of mediation ethics focused on the notion of party self-determination. Why, then, is party self-determination a suitable candidate for this role?

The justification for making party self-determination the primary ethical imperative of mediation centres on two main arguments. The first argument is that the possibility of achieving self-determination for the parties is what distinguishes mediation from other dispute resolution processes and makes it a distinct and valuable process in its own right. The second argument is that the achievement of party self-determination provides a principled foundation for the legitimacy of the mediation process. We discuss these arguments briefly below.

Mediation as a distinct process

Party self-determination is the key factor distinguishing mediation from litigation and other dispute resolution processes, because mediation provides the parties with the ultimate power to decide how to resolve their dispute. A mediator’s role is to use their expertise so as to enable and empower the parties to reach their own decision. This characteristic of mediation is special and distinct.

This point is emphasised by the fact that in litigation, arbitration, and even conciliation processes, the focus is not on enabling and empowering the parties to take control of their dispute and to reach an outcome of their own determination. Rather, the focus is on the third party decision-maker or specialist judging the merits of the parties’ cases and imposing a decision. Such adjudicative activity is generally guided by objective norms or criteria—most often centred on the law. There is limited opportunity for party self-determination in such processes.

Party self-determination in mediation is also distinctive because it is relational—grounded in connection, cooperation and collaboration. This concept of self-determination is very different from an atomistic notion of autonomy that emphasises privacy and self. An atomistic conception of self-determination arguably underpins the adversarial legal system, because each party is encouraged to advocate single-mindedly for their own interests. In mediation, by contrast, party self-determination does not exist on an individual level; rather, it is holistic and relational, encompassing the needs and interests of both parties. If only one party experiences self-determination, the process has not succeeded in its aims.

Principled and legitimate outcomes

A second argument for emphasising party self-determination is that it provides a principled foundation for the legitimacy of the process. Party self-determination can be said to lead to principled outcomes because it reflects foundational values of our legal, social and political order. These include traditional liberal values, such as consent, autonomy, respect, privacy and dignity. However, they also include relational values, such as empathy, emotional expression and interpersonal dialogue.

These values highlight the importance of party involvement and collaboration in the negotiation, creative option generation and decision-making components of mediation. In mediation, the parties can achieve a principled outcome because they are deeply and thoroughly involved in working through the issues, discussing their individual and mutual perspectives, and developing the terms of the final resolution. Party engagement also promotes the personal dignity of the parties, particularly when the result is to avoid the inevitable costs and uncertainties of litigation.

Party self-determination also promotes principled outcomes because it yields a form of real world justice. Many disputes take place in a context where the parties have different needs, priorities and values. Parties value different things, and also value things differently. This means that compromises and trade-offs are an inevitable and constructive part of the process. Compromise, then, does not mean the process is unprincipled or illegitimate. Rather, the value of compromise represents a key principle in its own right. It can lead to a more principled and legitimate result than rule-based or adversarial approaches. The notion of party self-determination recognises and embodies this important value.


The Promise and Challenges of International Tax Treaty Arbitration

Double Taxation

Double taxation imposes a significant barrier to global trade and investment. Traditionally, bilateral tax treaties (of which Australia has concluded more than 40) have attempted to eliminate double taxation, but disputes often arise about how these treaties should be interpreted and applied.

International organisations such as the OECD have sought to encourage the use of mandatory arbitration clauses to resolve these matters. However, this move has met with significant resistance from member nations.

In a recent post at austaxpolicy.com, Michelle Markham explores the reasons for this resistance and argues that arbitration of international tax disputes presents significant advantages to both governments and taxpayers.

Read the full post here: http://www.austaxpolicy.com/recurring-resistance-tax-treaty-arbitration-dispute-resolution-mechanism/

What comes after neutrality in mediation ethics?


This post previews Rachael Field and Jonathan Crowe’s forthcoming book, Mediation Ethics: From Theory to Practice, to be published next year by Edward Elgar. The book analyses the shortcomings of current neutrality-centred approaches to mediation ethics and seeks to answer the question of what might replace them.

Mediation is becoming more and more prominent internationally as a key form of dispute resolution for legal and other disputes. In some jurisdictions, participating in mediation is a compulsory pre-filing requirement in particular kinds of legal matters. Many benefits have been claimed for mediation as a mode of resolving disputes, including its informality, flexibility, less adversarial nature and focus on the parties and their interests. The growth of this form of dispute resolution has produced a considerable academic literature, but the theoretical foundations of mediation ethics have been relatively neglected.

Discussions of mediation ethics have traditionally focused heavily on the notions of mediator neutrality or impartiality. However, this focus has been criticised in recent decades for being unrealistic and overlooking the power dynamics between the parties. There is now a significant body of academic literature questioning whether mediators can ever truly be neutral and asking whether the concept of neutrality serves to mask the mediator’s actual power and influence. A number of authors have argued that it can be beneficial for vulnerable parties if mediators are prepared to play a more proactive role in appropriate cases.

The centrality of neutrality in mediation ethics, then, has increasingly been questioned and undermined. There is, however, a lack of consensus on what should replace it. The question is pressing given both the increasing reliance on mediation by domestic legal systems and a growing perception of mediation as an emerging profession. A traditional hallmark of a profession is its ability to self-regulate by applying communal standards of conduct. The idea of mediation as a profession therefore requires the mediation community to be able to articulate its core ethical standards. What, then, comes after neutrality? Can the concept be modified in response to these concerns or should mediation ethics have a different focus?

The present book offers a response to these questions. It develops a new theory of mediation ethics that emphasises the nature of mediation as a relational process. We argue that the focus of mediation ethics should move away from the untenable notions of neutrality and impartiality and towards a focus on enabling party self-determination. We supplement this focus with a view of mediation ethics as emerging dynamically from the efforts of mediators to respond to the needs of the parties. This provides the basis for a new picture of the mediation community as a community of practice with its own internal standards of excellence. We build on this theory to present a vision of what it means to think about mediation as a profession.

Chapter 1 opens the book by introducing the current paradigm of mediation practice, discussing the most commonly employed models of mediation and the extent to which they assume mediator neutrality or impartiality. Chapter 2 gives an overview of the historical development of codes of meditator conduct in the United States and elsewhere, showing how the facilitative model of mediation, with its ideals of neutrality and party self-determination, serves as an implicit yardstick for many forms of mediation practice. Chapter 3 then discusses the ideals of neutrality and party self-determination in more detail, examining how these notions are understood in the mediation literature, and considering the interaction between them.

Chapter 4 critically examines the notion of mediator neutrality, concluding that the dominant neutrality-centred approach to mediator ethics is at odds with the realities of mediation practice and is therefore untenable. In particular, the demands of neutrality place mediators in a position where they are unable to respond to the needs of individual parties without stepping outside the ethical boundaries of their role. Chapter 5 further problematises existing approaches to mediation ethics by considering the ways in which the relative informality of mediation may disadvantage inexperienced or vulnerable participants by requiring them to negotiate an unfamiliar genre of discourse. This provides the springboard for the new model of mediation ethics outlined in the subsequent chapters.

Chapter 6 introduces a new framework for mediation ethics that abandons the traditional emphasis on neutrality in favour of a focus on supporting party self-determination. The primary role of party self-determination in this new framework is supported by a focus on informed consent and an ethos of professionalism. Chapter 7 further operationalises this new ethical framework by offering a series of ethical guidelines that mediators can use to apply the framework in their practice. We argue for a contextual and relational conception of mediation ethics that is not rule-oriented, but encourages mediators to form appropriate and considered judgments in response to ethical challenges.

Chapter 8 then builds on this ethical framework to advance a conception of mediation as a professional community. We argue that mediation ethics is best understood as an evolving body of standards emerging over time by a process of consensus, rather than a set of rules or principles imposed from above. This picture of ethics is well suited to mediation due to its relationality and focus on the parties and their interests. The key feature of mediation, on this view, is not that the mediator is neutral or impartial, but rather that the parties are supported to achieve genuinely self-determined outcomes. This offers a more tenable basis for mediation ethics than the traditional emphasis on neutrality.


Alastair Nicholson on the family law system

Alastair Nicholson, former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, was interviewed on the ABC’s Lateline program last week. The interview focused on the Commonwealth government’s upcoming review of the family law system. It contains a number of comments relevant to the role of family mediation.

For example, Nicholson identifies the adversarial nature of litigation as one of the main challenges facing the family law process:

[W]e should be moving to a much more, a much less rather, adversarial system because it seems to me that the traditional adversary system is really not suited to family law … [M]uch of the proceedings in the court are adversarial and people who want to litigate, or are encouraged to litigate by some unscrupulous representation can actually jam the system.

Although Nicholson does not think it would be helpful to ‘get lawyers out of the system entirely’, he emphasises that more needs to be done to involve people in their own disputes and address power imbalances:

I mean, there are moments in cases where the adversarial system works, but usually there is an imbalance of power in family law cases. … It’s the people who have got the deep pockets that can afford the adversarial litigation but it just doesn’t work, I believe, in family situations.

A partial solution to these issues, Nicholson suggests, is to reform the court process to prevent aggressive questioning by perpetrators of family violence and encourage judges to play a more active role in prioritising children:

So, [in the German system] they get the children’s point of view right from the start and then the whole proceeding goes through, with social workers assisting … The fact is that I think it’s a much more responsive system than ours, and it is one that we could well copy.

Nicholson also recognises the important role of mediation, particularly in making the process less expensive for the parties:

[T]here is now much more room for mediation, which was a criticism of the system in the past. … [T]he other way to make it less expensive is to resolve the issues as soon as you can. … Once you start getting into litigation and once you start coming to court, it’s going to be expensive.

Family mediation has much to offer in addressing the problems of adversarialism and cost that Nicholson identifies, as well as managing power imbalances and helping to ensure a child-focused outlook. Hopefully, the government’s review of the family law system will acknowledge and support this potential.

The full interview can be accessed here: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/interview:-alastair-nicholson,-former-family-court/8999010.


PhD Scholarship: A Relational Theory of Procedural Justice, Macquarie University

Macquarie University is seeking a PhD candidate to join an interdisciplinary research project in law and philosophy.

The project is concerned with procedural justice in the context of resolving legal disputes. Its overall aim is to develop a theory of procedural justice that builds on relational theory in philosophy by incorporating relational concerns in the moral evaluation of legal procedures.

The theory will be used to evaluate the procedural practices of a designated legal institution (the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal).  A case study will investigate the extent to which the theory explains, justifies or provides reasons for revising the procedural practices of the NCAT.

The PhD candidate will either work on the normative aspect or the institutional legal aspects of the project, depending on their qualifications and background.

More information can be found at http://www.mq.edu.au/research/phd-and-research-degrees/scholarships/scholarships-for-domestic-candidates (click on ‘Faculty of Arts’, then ‘Philosophy/Macquarie Law School’).


‘Linking Your Thinking’ To Satisfy Your Clients

This post by Emma-May Litchfield and Danielle Hutchinson originally appeared on the Global Pound Conference Blog.

Global Pound Conference Blog

Небесные струныDo you want to make sure that your commercial clients are happy with the dispute resolution services you are providing? Are you committed to tailoring your business to meet their needs? Irrespective of whether your clients are ‘dispute-savvy’ or still finding their way into the world of commercial dispute resolution, there are things that you can do to make sure you meet their expectations.

The Global Pound Conference is travelling around the world asking commercial users, judges, mediators, lawyers, academics and government officials to share everything they know about the best ways to meet the expectations of commercial clients. After analysing the feedback from the first 350 respondents, we have identified three steps that can help you meet the expectations of your commercial clients.

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3 Signs That You (Or Your Clients) Are Dispute-Savvy

This post by Emma-May Litchfield and Danielle Hutchinson originally appeared on the Global Pound Conference Blog.

Global Pound Conference Blog

display concepts with clipping pathWhether you are a dispute resolution practitioner or a commercial operator, you know that some manage to navigate the commercial dispute resolution world more effectively than others. What distinguishes those who thrive from those who barely survive?

The answer may be simpler than you think, but the implications of understanding this could have a big impact on the way you approach commercial disputes.

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