Global Pound Conference Sydney

I’m participating today in the Global Pound Conference (“GPC”) Series in Sydney. Taking its inspiration from the original Pound Conference, the purpose of this worldwide Series of conversations is to explore what can be done to improve access to justice and the quality of justice around the world in civil and commercial conflicts. The title of the GPC Series is: Shaping the Future of Dispute Resolution and Improving Access to Justice.

As you might expect, there is a lot of agreement in the room about the importance of DR and the role of DR practitioners in achieving access to justice through DR practice in commercial and civil matters. This is important because many people here are lawyers. It is encouraging to hear partners of top tier law firms affirming the place of DR approaches (and particularly non-litigation DR approaches) in legal practice. It is sobering but important to hear the perspective of these successful practitioners that law school is not equipping young graduates with the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes that practising law in 2017 requires. That is, they’re saying that young law graduates don’t have the necessary knowledge about DR theory and practice, they don’t have the necessary DR communication and relational skills, and they don’t have the necessary self-management and reflection skills.

This brings me back to my soapbox point about the need to teach DR as a core compulsory subject in the law curriculum. If lawyers are to be able to adequately and ethically advise and guide their clients in order to manage and resolve their disputes effectively they certainly do need to be able to work with the substantive law, but they also need to be able to:

  1. Diagnose a relevant dispute resolution process that will enable the dispute to be resolved in a way that addresses the best interests of the client.
  2. Communicate effective, practical DR advice and generate creative solutions.
  3. Work in practice groups.
  4. Recognise, reflect upon, and respond to, ethical issues arising out of the legal dispute and its resolution.
  5. Reflect on and assess their own professional capabilities and performance.

DR subjects are very well-placed to equip students with this suite of knowledge, skills and attitudes.

​The Global Pound Conference series is an important innovation that will generate important data relevant to convincing the Law Admissions Consultative Committee about the appropriate place of DR in the Priestley 11 subjects required for admission to legal practice in Australia.

You can see here the core questions​ that are part of the GPC Series research element.

You can also explore the website to find out more about the Series:

I want to commend the organisers of the Sydney series – the organising committee, and the Resolution Institute (, its CEO Fiona Hollier and her amazing team.

Congratulations also go to one of our ADR Research Network members – Emma-May Litchfield – who is leading the research component of the GPC. This is important work that will provide the DR community with a critical evidence base.

Justice in DR = Fairness?

This second blog in the series for May on the values and goals of DR is also adapted from Chapter 4 of: Laurence Boulle and Rachael Field, Australian Dispute Resolution – Law and Practice (LexisNexis, 2017).

Much of the DR literature about justice connects or conflates it with notions of fairness. NADRAC, for example, noted in its 1997 Discussion Paper on Issues of Fairness and Justice in Alternative Dispute Resolution, that the words justice and fairness ‘are essentially interchangeable’. [1] The word ‘fair’ is mentioned 179 times in volume 1 alone of the Productivity Commission’s 2014 Report on Access to Justice, often in conjunction with words such as ‘justice’, ’equity’, ‘transparency’ ‘openness’ ‘dignity’ and ‘reasonableness’. It has been said that ‘a just result must be a fair result’.[2]

Albin in her seminal article ‘The Role of Fairness in Negotiation’ identifies fairness as a ‘slippery concept’ but one which is an influential factor in DR across diverse cultures and disciplines.[3] Albin refers to justice as a macro concept which points to ‘what is right and wrong’.[4] Fairness on the other hand is seen as a concept in DR contexts that has a less definitive and a more practical, contextualised and individualised nature.[5]

It may not be possible to identify all the elements of fairness in DR with universal acceptance.[6] As Albin says: ‘fairness is an element of acceptability’,[7] and acceptability is something which is judged subjectively. In DR processes other than litigation this is often expressed as ‘what the parties can live with’.[8] The outcome may not be perfect but if the process is considered to be fair, it may thereby be seen as just and consequently acceptable to the parties. It is a challenging task, then, to develop a values framework of general application for DR that is relevant to processes across the matrix, especially if such a framework is to include a conception of justice as fairness which is responsive to the relevant individual and subjective perspectives of parties in dispute.

It would not be a satisfactory conception of fairness as a value for DR, however, if it were simply a postmodern blank canvass of individual perceptions. It is necessary to identify some core elements of fairness across DR systems.  Frey’s articulation of a ‘first class dispute resolution process, whether litigation or an alternative process’ refers to ‘impartiality, a just process and a just result’.[9]  These elements sit consistently with Albin’s identification of fairness as: structural fairness, process fairness, procedural fairness and outcome fairness.[10] They are also in accord with NADRAC’s focus on fairness and justice in procedure and outcome.[11]

What we know from brain research is that it is important for humans to perceive that they are being treated fairly. This is because being treated fairly is said to ignite the brain’s reward circuitry. UCLA scientists reported in 2008, for example, that ‘the human brain responds to being treated fairly the same way it responds to winning money and eating chocolate’.[12]

The significant body of scholarship and literature on the topic of fairness leads us then to suggest three process goals that contribute to the enactment of the macro value of justice in DR. These goals are: procedural justice (fair process), substantive justice (fair outcomes) and impartiality. The satisfaction of these goals is the safeguard that critics of processes other than litigation find lacking, and when these fairness-related goals are achieved, whatever the DR processes is, it can be regarded as true to the value of justice. In the blog posts that follow in the coming days of May I offer an analysis of the process goals of procedural and substantive justice and impartiality to further elucidate the nature of justice in DR systems.

Comments or responses to these thoughts are most welcome at any time!

[1] NADRAC, Discussion Paper on Issues of Fairness and Justice in Alternative Dispute Resolution (Commonwealth of Australia, 1997), 20. See also, Cecilia Albin, Justice and Fairness in International Negotiations (Cambridge University Press, 2001).

[2] Martin A Frey, ‘Does ADR Offer Second Class Justice?’ (2000) 36 Tulsa Law Journal 727, 727.

[3] Cecilia Albin, ‘The Role of Fairness in Negotiation’ (1993) 9(3) Negotiation Journal 223, 223.

[4] See Morton Deutsch, Distributive Justice: A Social Psychological Perspective (Yale University Press, 1985) and Michael L Moffitt and Robert C Bordone, The Handbook of Dispute Resolution (Jossey-Bass, 2005) 90.

[5] Albin, above n 3, 225.

[6] Ibid. Carrie Menkel-Meadow, ‘Whose Dispute Is It Anyway: A Philosophical and Democratic Defense of Settlement (In Some Cases) (1994) 83 Georgetown Law Journal 2663.

[7] Albin, above n 3, 225

[8] Menkel-Meadow, above n 6.

[9] Frey, above n 2, 727.

[10] Albin, above n 3, 225.

[11] NADRAC, above n 1, 20.

[12] Stuart Wolpert, ‘Brain Reacts to Fairness as it Does to Money and Chocolate, Study Shows’ UCLA Newsroom Science + Technology April 21, 2008, 6. See also, E Allan Lind, ‘Fairness Heuristic Theory: Justice Judgments as Pivotal Cognitions in Organizational Relations’ (2001) 56 Advances in Organizational Justice 88.

First or Second-Class Justice? Justice as a DR Value

The values and goals of DR systems are an important dimension of the DR panorama and an understanding of these values and goals is critical to ethical, effective and efficient practice in DR contexts. My contribution to the Blog this month explores the values and goals of DR methods by adapting content from Chapter 4 of my new work with Laurence Boulle: Australian Dispute Resolution – Law and Practice (LexisNexis, 2017).

There are high expectations of DR processes in the Australian community and its civil justice system, and these expectations are difficult to meet. Despite efforts over recent decades to inculcate community dispute resolution, and to renew and refresh the way the civil justice system operates, the DR system at large, and the way it is managed by governments, and used by lawyers and citizens, remains imperfect and in need of improvement.

Concerns continue to exist, for example, about the costs of DR, both in relation to State resources invested in determinative processes and costs to individuals who seek assistance with managing or resolving disputes through processes across the DR matrix. The concerns also pertain to problems more broadly associated with accessing just and fair outcomes to legal and other disputes. Worryingly, there seems also to be a continuing resistance within the system to fully embracing DR processes other than litigation that remain for some (particularly perhaps legal professionals of long-standing) unfamiliar, and continue to be perceived as not adequately protecting parties’ legal rights.

The concepts of justice, party autonomy and community are core DR values that should be used to inform the achievement of appropriate DR goals.

Justice as a dispute resolution value

The particular focus of this blog is on justice as a dispute resolution value.[1] ‘Justice’ is an important philosophical and intellectual element of any framework of DR values, and arguably a foundational driver and motivator for all DR processes in the matrix. The notion of justice should inform day-to-day practice, both in legal contexts and outside them. Amongst the core substantive values of democratic systems of law and governance the conception of justice connects with perceptions of participation, accountability, transparency, rationality, equality and due process.[2]

DR practitioners working with the value of justice at the centre of their professional identity can critically assess their practices and their impacts by asking reflective questions like: ‘Does my practice contribute to achieving justice for each of the parties?’ and ‘How can the DR processes I practice better provide the parties with just process and outcomes?’

To develop a framework of DR values with justice as a critical element a clear conception of justice itself, in the DR context, is necessary. Justice is, however, a complex notion and hard to conclusively define, not least in the context of law and dispute resolution.[3]  Welsh has stated concerns that justice in this context is ‘increasingly marginalized as a sweet, old-fashioned notion’,[4] perhaps because it is ‘so undefinable and unattainable that thinking about it generates more self-doubt than clarity’.[5] The Productivity Commission noted: ‘”Justice” is what people are seeking access to’ but it is a concept that ‘can be easier to recognise than to define’.[6] Stuart Hampshire, in his book Justice Is Conflict, concludes that there may never be agreement on a universal concept of justice.[7] Julie Macfarlane has reported that when a lawyer was asked in her research to differentiate between a ‘good’ outcome and a ‘just’ outcome, their response was: ‘There’s no justice; it’s just a game. What are you, new? That’s a really funny question’. Another lawyer responded: ‘Justice is way too deep for me.’[8]

Big theories of justice, such as Rawls’ theory of the fundamental principles necessary for a just and morally acceptable society, are too broad and abstract to assist in building a useful values framework for DR.[9] Rawls’ restatement of his theory in 2001 as justice as fairness[10] and Dworkin’s theory of ‘law as integrity’ are closer to the mark in terms of integrating understandings of fairness into explaining the concept of justice.[11] Dworkin’s theory is one of the most influential about the nature of law in contemporary times, but it was written for an adversarial justice system focussed on judicial interpretation of the law, and so is adaptable but not adoptable for our purposes.[12]

For a more concrete approach it is useful to consider how legal dictionaries define justice, namely as ‘rightfulness’, ‘fairness’, ‘that which is deserved’, ‘a moral value generally supposed to be the end to which laws are the means’.[13] With concepts such as rightfulness and fairness in mind, it is relatively uncontroversial to assert that drawn-out, expensive, difficult to access, alienating and hard to understand DR processes do not satisfy a general conception of justice. Litigation is sometimes said to be unjust in these ways and DR processes other than litigation are often presented as mechanisms for addressing ways in which litigation compromises justice for disputing parties. On the other hand, DR systems that are more efficient in terms of cost and time and that are easier to access than litigation but less certain to protect strict legal rights and entitlements of citizens, are often posited as providing potentially unjust procedures and outcomes, or of providing ‘second-class’ justice.[14]

The identification of ‘classes’ of justice and the juxtaposition of first- and second-class justice has been a part of the DR literature since at least the 1980s.[15] The argument that DR processes other than litigation can offer only ‘second-class justice’ posits that it is those who cannot afford to go to court who are forced to use ‘ADR’ processes and are required as a result to compromise and collaborate, rather than harnessing the authority of the law and the system that formally administers it, ultimately being denied the opportunity to ‘win’ their case.[16] In the 1980s Abel led the argument that underprivileged parties are more likely than pecunious parties to be referred to ADR schemes, and that such schemes offered the rhetoric of party empowerment and autonomy but did not always deliver this in reality.[17] It has also been claimed that the term ‘justice’ has no relevance to DR processes other than litigation and should be used only in relation to the procedures and outcomes of  formal justice systems.[18]

A system or process that is ‘second-class’ is one that is ‘a cut below the best’, ‘second rate, inferior or mediocre’.[19] A conviction that DR processes other than litigation offer second-class justice centres on the view that litigation provides the model of first-class justice. This assumes, by definition, that litigation is a cut above the rest, first rate, superior, exceptional and excellent. Other formal law-informed determinative processes, such as arbitration and adjudication, have also had a long and strong correlation with first class conceptions of justice. As statues of justice as a blindfolded goddess imply, litigation offers a process in which the judge impartially judges ‘the case rather than the parties’.[20] Amongst other things this means that justice through litigation is transparent and accountable, that it provides a level of consistent if not always strictly equal treatment of parties and their matters, and that its justice credentials warrant the imposition of enforceable state-sanctioned outcomes.

The capacity of DR processes to deliver justice is often measured by way of comparison with the justice principles of the law and its implementation through litigation. NADRAC summarises the safeguards of fairness and justice in litigated processes as follows:

Power imbalances between the participants can be ameliorated by legal representation. Procedural and evidentiary rules ensure that each person has a chance to present their case and to challenge the arguments and evidence of the other person. There are enforceable procedures which ensure that each person has access to relevant evidence so that the dispute is decided on the basis of appropriate disclosure of information. There is a well-qualified and respected third party decision maker who evaluates the evidence and arguments of the parties and who makes a decision according to established principles. The process of litigation is open and observable and decisions are subject to appeal.[21]

Resnik has listed 12 qualities of due process found in determinative processes such as litigation that are considered to be ‘valued features’:[22]

  • Rules of procedure bestow individual autonomy and opportunities for the litigants to persuade the decision-maker of the rightness of their case.
  • For decision-makers, procedure provides a concentration of power in judicial decision-making; a diffusion and reallocation of power through the use of juries, appellate courts and hearings de novo; impartiality and visibility; rationality and norm enforcement; ritual and formality.
  • Adjudicative decision-making has the valued features of finality and revisionism, economy (in the sense of low direct costs) and consistency yet differentiation.

Resnik does not claim this list to be comprehensive, nor that the features should always be accorded equal weight. She accepts that there are tensions among them, with different priorities accorded at different times, and acknowledges that a number of these features are disputed or can be found in processes other than litigation.

Since his appointment in 2006, Chief Justice Wayne Martin of the Supreme Court of Western Australia has been fond of analogising the court system, albeit through a critical lens, with a Rolls Royce, a first-class vehicle. He has said, for example, that the system is: ‘A Rolls Royce of justice systems in the sense that it is the best that money, a lot of money, can buy. But there isn’t much point in owning a Rolls Royce if you can’t afford the fuel to drive it where you want to go. You can polish it, admire it and take pride of ownership from it but it doesn’t perform its basic function sitting in the garage…. It might be time to consider trading our Rolls Royce for a lighter, more contemporary and more fuel-efficient vehicle which will get us where we need to go just as effectively and perhaps more quickly’.[23]

The value characteristics of litigation, referred to above, are seen as providing justice through an impartial process based on principles of procedural fairness. It is because processes other than litigation may not as comprehensively satisfy these elements that they are judged as lacking the capacity to provide ‘first-class justice’, and are questioned in relation to their ‘internal procedures, their impact on individuals and their broader societal consequences’ (including their emphasis on compromise and settlement).[24] This perception is widely held because the ‘umpire’ model that litigation represents has deep roots in Western conceptions of justice.[25]

However, the actual use of litigation does not accurately correlate with its high regard as a DR system. Most citizens do not commonly have recourse to the courts, or to the law or lawyers, even where a dispute raises legal issues and claims.[26] It seems then that public perceptions of justice, and particularly of the nature of first-class justice offered by the courts, are typically not shaped by personal or real experience. Further, the last 30 years of advocacy for community DR and for reforms to civil justice systems evidence wide-spread recognition that litigation, while undoubtedly an important aspect of the DR matrix, has often failed to provide any sort of justice for the general citizenry, let alone first-class justice. While litigation represents notions of objectivity, rationality, consistency and formal equality before the law, inaccessible justice is justice denied. Justice through the courts is perhaps more an ideological ‘vibe’, as one of Australia’s most famous lawyers might say.[27]

As Rhode has commented, critics of the justice offered by DR systems other than litigation need to consider how often and on what terms ‘first-class’ justice is available.[28]  Menkel-Meadow reminds us that, ‘legal justice is not always actual justice’.[29] For Frey, first class justice is not limited to litigation, rather a ‘first class dispute resolution process, whether litigation or an alternative process, must offer the disputants impartiality, a just process and a just result’.[30]

It is apparent then that in order to construct a robust values framework for the DR processes represented in the matrix, a meaning of justice is required which is relevant across DR contexts and deals with the challenges of a perceived hierarchy in different classes of justice provided by various processes.[31]  Such a framework needs to deal realistically with issues of access to justice. It must balance the importance of maintaining a legal doctrine of precedent as part of justice under the rule of law,[32] with the need for less public and formal forms of dispute resolution which are more humane and provide individually tailored outcomes.[33] The framework also needs to address concerns about the relationship between private settlement and the public enforcement of rights.[34]

Constructing such a framework is far from a simple task.  As the former Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia, Michael Black, has said: ‘We should maintain the search for that elusive point of equilibrium at which the competing pulls of cost, speed, perfection and fairness are balanced in a way that produces substantial and accessible justice — not perfection, but nevertheless processes and outcomes readily recognisable as substantial justice according to law’.[35]

In the blogs that follow this month I continue to develop these ideas. So stay tuned!

[1] Some of the influential early works on this topic in the DR field include: Richard Abel (ed), The Politics of Informal Justice, Volume 1 (Academic Press, 1982), Jerold Auerbach, Justice Without Law (Oxford University Press, 1983); Roger Matthews (ed), Informal Justice? (Sage, 1988); Susan Silbey and Austin Sarat, ‘Dispute Processing in Law and Legal Scholarship: From Institutional Critique to the Reconstruction of the Juridical Subject’ (1989) 66 Denver University Law Review 437; Sally Engle Merry and Neal Milner (eds), The Possibility of Popular Justice: A Case Study of Community Mediation in the United States (University of Michigan Press, 1993);

[2] Richard C Reuben, ‘Democracy and Dispute Resolution: The Problem of Arbitration’ (2004) 67 Law and Contemporary Problems 279, 282. See also, Richard C Reuben, ‘Democracy and Dispute Resolution: Systems Design and the New Workplace’ (2005) 10 Harvard Negotiation Law Review 11.

[3] There is a vast literature on the concept of justice spanning from Plato’s Republic (trans Robin Waterfield) (Oxford University Press, 1984) through to one of Dworkin’s last and most expansive works – Ronald Dworkin, Justice for Hedgehogs (Harvard University Press, 2011) and Eric Heinze, The Concept of Injustice (Routledge, 2013).

[4] Nancy A Welsh, ‘Remembering the Role of Justice in Resolution: Insights from Procedural and Social Justice Theories’ (2004) 54 Journal of Legal Education 49, 49.

[5] Ibid 50.

[6] Productivity Commission, Access to Justice Arrangements: Report Volume 1 (Commonwealth of Australia, 2014), 75.

[7] Stuart Hampshire, Justice Is Conflict (Princeton, 2000) 4.

[8] Julie Macfarlane, The New Lawyer: How Settlement is Transforming the Practice of Law (UBC Press, 2008).

[9] Namely, enjoyment of the most extensive basic liberty possible (without compromising the liberty of others), and social and economic positions to everyone’s advantage and open to all. See for example: John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press, rev ed, 1999) (first published in 1971); Raymond Wacks, Understanding Jurisprudence: An Introduction to Legal Theory (Oxford University Press, 3 ed, 2012).

[10] See John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (Belknap Press, 2001).

[11] See Ronald Dworkin, A Matter of Principle (Harvard University Press, 1985) and Ronald Dworkin, Justice in Robes (Harvard University Press, 2006).

[12] Ibid.

[13] For example, see the CCH Concise Dictionary of Modern Law.

[14] Martin A Frey, ‘Does ADR Offer Second Class Justice?’ (2000) 36 Tulsa Law Journal 727.

[15] Abel, above n 1; Auerbach, above n 1.

[16] See for example, Stephen B Goldberg, Frank EA SanderNancy H Rogers and Sarah Rudolph ColeDispute Resolution: Negotiation Mediation & Other Processes (Wolters Kluwer, 6th ed, 2012). See also Lola and Mauro Cappelletti, ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution Processes within the Framework of the World-Wide Access-to-Justice Movement’ (1993) 56 The Modern Law Review 282.

[17] Ibid.

[18] NADRAC itself noted this assertion – see NADRAC, Issues of Fairness and Justice in Alternative Dispute Resolution (Commonwealth Government, 1997) 20.

[19] Frey, above n 14, 728.

[20] Richard A Posner, ‘The Role of the Judge in the Twenty-First Century’ (2006) 86 Boston University Law Review 1049, 1057 referring to Richard A Posner, Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2003) 284-86.

[21] NADRAC, Issues of Fairness and Justice in Alternative Dispute Resolution: Discussion Paper (Commonwealth of Australia, 1997), 16.

[22]Judith Resnik, ‘Tiers’ (1983-4) 57 Southern California Law Review 837, 844-59.

[23] Wayne Martin, ‘Bridging the Gap’, Address to the National Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference (12 August 2006); Wayne Martin, ‘Improving Access to Justice through the Procedures, Structures and Administration of the Courts’, Address to the Australian Lawyers Alliance Western Australian State Conference, 21 August 2009 Novotel Langley Hotel Perth, WA; and Wayne Martin, ‘Access to Justice’, Notre Dame University Eminent Speakers’ Series Inaugural Lecture, Fremantle Campus Wednesday, 26 February 2014. See also, The New Lawyer, ‘Justice an Easily Admired, Yet Inaccessible Rolls Royce: Chief Justice’, The Lawyers’ Weekly, 27 August 2009, This analogy has been used by others also, for example, Donna Cooper, ‘When Rolls Royce and Holden Justice Collide: An Analysis of the Operations of the Federal Magistrates Service in Queensland in the Family Law Arena’ (2003) 3(2) QUT Law and Justice Journal 1.

[24] Laurence Boulle, Mediation Principles Process Practice (Lexis Nexis, 1996). See also Stephen B Goldberg, Frank EA Sander, Nancy H Rogers, Sarah Rudoph Cole (eds), Dispute Resolution (Wolters Kluwer, 6th ed, 2012); Francis Regan, ‘Dilemmas of Dispute Resolution Policy’ (1997) 8 Australian Dispute Resolution Journal 5, 14–15.

[25] Posner makes consistent reference to the judge as ‘umpire’:   Richard A Posner, ‘The Role of the Judge in the Twenty-First Century’ (2006) 86 Boston University Law Review 1049, 1057 referring to Richard A Posner, Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2003).

[26] This research has been around for a long time – see for example Russell Smith and Sally Lloyd-Bostock, Why People Go To Law: An Annotated Bibliography of Social Science Research (Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Oxford, 1990); and Hazel Genn, Paths to Justice: What People Do and Think About Going to Law (Oxford University Press, 1999), 246, 247-8.

[27] Dennis Denuto: ‘In summing up, it’s the Constitution, it’s Mabo, it’s justice, it’s law, it’s the vibe, and … no that’s it … it’s the vibe. I rest my case’. The Castle (1997) directed by Rob Sitch.

[28] Deborah L Rhode, Access to Justice (Oxford University Press, 2004) 42.

[29] Carrie Menkel-Meadow, ‘From Legal Disputes to Conflict Resolution and Human Problem Solving: Legal Dispute Resolution in a Multidisciplinary Context’ (2004) 54(1) Journal of Legal Education 7, 8.

[30] Frey, above n 14, 727.

[31] Edgar Allan Lind and Tom R Tyler, The Social Psychology of Procedural Justice (Plenum Press, 1988).

[32] David Luban, ‘Settlements and the Erosion of the Public Realm’ (1995) 83 Georgetown Law Journal 2619.

[33] See discussion in Boulle, above n 24, regarding ‘mediation’s alternative justice model’, 210-212.

[34] Silbey and Sarat, above n 1.

[35] Michael Black in the Productivity Commission Report, above n 6, 92.

Seeking Volunteers for Global Research Project

GPC Logo 2

Resolution Resources is seeking volunteers with experience/training in either research or dispute resolution (DR) to assist with the preparation of the Final Report for the Global Pound Conference (GPC) Series 2016-17. The GPC Series in a not-for-profit project initiated by the International Mediation Institute (IMI). The purpose of this project is to investigate the future of dispute resolution and access to justice.

Volunteers may assist with a range of tasks including:

Benefits of participating include the opportunity to:

  • Develop skills in research
  • Gain experience working on a global project
  • Work in a multi-disciplinary team


  • Equivalent to two days training
  • Minimum of 10 working days between July 2017 and April 2018

Please send a CV and cover letter of not more than one page to:

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Law, Justice and Evidence-based reform – Symposium at the University of Newcastle

Photo Credit: Christoph Scholz Flickr via Compfight cc


The evidence-based movement has had a transformative influence on  research and practice in numerous disciplines, including healthcare,  education, management and policy.

In contrast,  law lags behind. Law, in many respects, is still ‘eminence based’,  relying on the opinions of authority figures, rather‘evidence-based’,  which focusses instead on robust and thorough evidence as a basis for interventions.  There is too often a  gulf between academic research and the reality of lawmaking and legal  practice.  And yet, as those in the academy are well aware, impact is increasingly used as an assessment of the success of research. Empirical research, along with other forms of evidence, plays an important role in  reinforcing the value  that researchers can add to the day-to-day operation of  the law.

The evidence-based movement in law is concerned with improving research and evaluation in all areas of law’s reach, including legal education, legal practice, law-making and judging.   Drawing on evidence-based definitions from other fields,  evidence-based law and practice urges the production of rigorous  research evidence and incorporation of that evidence into debate about  legal doctrine, legislation and professional practices, analysis of the  impacts of law in society, and proposals for reforms in law and  practice.


Being evidence-based means that law-and policy-making, and professional practices, are grounded in rigorous evidence of what is effective in achieving desired outcomes.   At the heart of an evidenced-based approach is empirical research,  a relatively under-used (but growing) approach for legal academia.   In this respect, the field of dispute resolution, and civil procedure / civil justice more broadly, leads the way in terms of the breadth of evidence based approaches currently used by academics.   Some of these have been  showcased on this blog, and presented at the recent Non-Adversarial Justice Conference, hosted in Sydney by the AIJA.

However, not all aspects of an evidence-based approach translate naturally from the sciences to the legal context.  For example, the sciences focus on randomised controlled trials, and the systematic review of randomised controlled trials as ‘level II’ and ‘level 1’ (higher order) evidence respectively.   Law as a discipline of course is not well suited to randomised controlled trials, and even less well suited to detailed direct comparison of data across jurisdictions.   Many questions remain as to how to better adapt these research paradigms to the legal context.

To advance the development of the evidenced-based law movement in Australia, the University of Newcastle Law School is holding a one day Symposium on Monday 22 May 2017.

The Symposium will provide a forum for researchers, practitioners and policy-makers to discuss, advance and critique the concept of using evidence to inform justice decisions. The Symposium will open with a keynote address, “Reforming the Justice System: The Alchemy of Data, Leadership and Synergy”, delivered by international expert Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis. Justice Kourlis is the Executive Director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) and will discuss their robust approaches to original empirical legal research, innovative models for working with stakeholders, and strategies for measuring outcomes and impacts.

The full draft program can be viewed here and you can register your attendance at the  UoN Online Shop .  Attendees are also invited to an optional dinner following the Symposium. Discount accommodation rates will be available at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Honeysuckle.

For more information, please contact Briony Johnston:

“Safe and supported”: Developing a model for mediating family violence cases beyond family law

Dr Becky Batagol, Monash University & Professor Rachael Field, Bond University

Email contacts:;

This post comes from work we are doing together focusing on how to appropriately identify and respond to cases of family violence in mediation practice outside the area of family law.

This is our first time working together, after many years of knowing each other (we met at the National Mediation Conference in 2000). As two feminists, we are convinced that there are ways to make dispute resolution processes safer and more supportive for the women who must use them who are also victims of family violence. The project brings together Rachael’s expertise in crafting and evaluating a model for mediating family violence cases in family law through the Coordinated Family Dispute Resolution program and Becky’s expertise in family dispute resolution and follows from her work as a consultant to the Royal Commission into Family Violence in 2015. (The views here are the views of the authors and not of their employers or organisations they have worked with previously).

Our work in this area is developing, and our thinking here is not final. We welcome your email or comment feedback. This post was developed from presentations at the 5th Annual Australian Dispute Resolution Research Network meeting in Hobart in December 2016 and at the AIJA Non-Adversarial Justice Conference, Sydney in April 2017.

tom simpson FV

Photo credit: Tom Simpson


Our aim in this project is to flesh out key elements of a safe and supported model of mediation in cases involving family violence that can be used across a range of contexts.

A great deal of attention has been paid to mediating cases of family violence in the field of family law. Outside the family law field, little attention has been paid to how to appropriately identify and respond to cases of family violence in mediation practice.

In our work together we are using what we have learned from family law dispute resolution to flesh out key elements of a safe and supported model of mediation in cases involving family violence that can be used across a range of contexts.

Beyond family law, there are a range of other contexts where dispute resolution professionals will have an ongoing role in dealing with the consequences of family violence eg

  • disputes with providers of essential services, such as electricity, water, banking and telecommunications, as a result of economic abuse
  • child protection conciliation conferences/ADR in state Children’s Courts
  • the negotiation/mediation process that takes place in finalising the conditions of family violence orders in state magistrates’ courts, and
  • restorative justice contexts as an adjunct to the criminal and family violence system

We believe that the imperatives relating to dispute resolution and family violence remain broadly similar regardless of the context. There is a legitimate concern about the use of informal dispute resolution processes in cases of family violence because of deep power imbalances between perpetrators and victims. On the other hand, with a focus on safety and with appropriate support and careful attention not to minimise the violence, there are clear potential benefits of mediation for victims of family violence which can include self-determination, certainty, reduced financial and other costs and timeliness.

We use the Coordinated Family Dispute Resolution model pilot to inform an analysis of the potentialities and possible pitfalls of the use of dispute resolution in the contexts outside family law


Context: Coordinated Family Dispute Resolution

In 2009, the Australian Federal Attorney-General’s Department commissioned a specialised model of family mediation for matters involving a history of domestic violence. The Coordinated Family Dispute Resolution model (CFDR) was piloted between 2010 and 2012 in five different locations around Australia, and evaluated by AIFS. CFDR was designed to support parties with a history of family violence to achieve safe and sustainable post-separation parenting outcomes. The model’s design sought to provide a multidisciplinary approach within a framework designed to specifically address some of the issues arising from a power imbalance resulting from a history of domestic violence. AIFS noted that the model is comprised of four case-managed phases which are implemented in ‘a multi-agency, multidisciplinary setting (which) provide a safe, non-adversarial and child-sensitive means for parents to sort out their post-separation parenting disputes’.

Eventually, funding was not provided for full roll-out of model due to political, resource and funding issues, although the fight for funding for CFDR continues.

The CFDR model was complex and multifaceted as the table below shows:


The special features of CFDR which work together to create the potential for safe and just outcomes – and which could be integrated into the diverse dispute resolution contexts we discuss further below – include:

  1. A coordinated response

The CFDR model demonstrated that it is important to bring a range of professionals together including government and community agencies to achieve a safe process, and it is critical that these diverse agencies and professionals share information and communicate effectively with each other.

2. A focus on specialist risk assessment

A critical element of the CFDR model was the integration of specialist risk assessment across the model’s practice which maintained the safety of the participants, and particularly the victims of violence and their children, as the highest priority. The safety focus of the risk assessment process went significantly beyond the usual FDR intake screening process which predominantly assesses that the parties’ have the capacity to participate effectively in the mediation process. These specialist risk assessments were conducted only by qualified and experienced DV and men’s workers with highly developed risk assessment skills, including an ability to identify ‘predominant aggressors’ of family violence.

3. The use of a legally assisted, facilitative model of mediation

In CFDR, a facilitative, problem-solving model of mediation was practised. This was because the goal of CFDR mediation was acknowledged as being to assist the parties resolve disputes about parenting safely, rather than to have a transformative effect. The design of the model acknowledged that it is not possible – in the 3-4 hours of a mediation session to have a transformative effect on perpetrators of violence. The best way to promote the safety of victims and their children was to support the making of relatively short-term parenting decisions. Transformative changes in a perpetrators violent behaviour may be possible but require the support and expertise of professional men’s behavioural change workers.

4. Special support measures needed to respond to domestic violence in mediation

The CFDR model also featured a number of additional special measures to protect the safety of victims and children. These measures were designed to support the hearing of the parties’ voices, and enable the parties to reach post-separation parenting agreements that upheld the best interests of the children. One such special measure was the acknowledgement of the concept of a ‘predominant aggressor’ in the model

5. Listening to the child’s voice

The involvement of children in CFDR mediation was not part of the general pilot process although the model as it was developed argued for inclusion of a professional children’s worker. If the child’s voice was included in the process it was only as a result of a decision by the CFDR team of case management professionals, and after careful analysis of the safety implications of this approach. Only appropriately trained and qualified ‘children’s practitioners’ could be asked to participate in CFDR to support the hearing of the child’s voice. These practitioners were required to have extensive clinical experience working with children and family violence.

The pilot was evaluated by the highly respected researchers at the Australian Institute of Family Studies under the leadership of Dr Rae Kaspiew. A number of the evaluation findings affirmed the efficacy of the design elements of the model in terms of facilitating the safe and effective practice of family mediation where there is a history of domestic violence. For example, it was found that adequate risk assessment for the parties’ safety and well-being is critical in domestic violence contexts; preparation for the parties’ participation in the process was key; and vulnerable parties have more chance of making their voice heard in mediation in the context of lawyer-assisted models, as long as those lawyers are trained adequately in dispute resolution theory and practice. In short the report said that CFDR was ‘at the cutting edge of family law practice’ because it involved the conscious application of mediation where there had been a history of family violence, in a clinically collaborative multidisciplinary and multi-agency setting.


Context: Royal Commission into Family Violence

The work of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, has shown that an understanding of the nature of family violence and an ability to identify and respond to cases of family violence is central to the work of anyone working in law and dispute resolution in a number of diverse fields.

The Victorian government set up the Royal Commission in 2014 to examine and evaluate strategies, frameworks, policies, programs and services and establish best practice for four areas – the prevention of family violence; early intervention; support for victims of family violence, particularly for women and children; and accountability for perpetrators of family violence. The Royal Commission was also asked to investigate means of ensuring systemic responses to family violence, investigate how government agencies and community organisations can better integrate and coordinate their efforts, and make recommendations on how best to evaluate and measure the success of strategies and programs put in place to stop family violence.

On 30 March 2016, the Victorian Parliament tabled the report of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. The report represents the culmination of 13 months of work by Australia’s first ever Royal Commission into family violence.

The Royal Commission’s report contains 227 recommendations.  The Victorian government has committed to implementing all recommendations in the report, regardless of the cost. The Commission stated that its ‘recommendations are directed at improving the foundations of the current system, seizing opportunities to transform the way that we respond to family violence, and building the structures that will guide and oversee a long-term reform program that deals with all aspects of family violence’ (Summary and Recommendations, p.14).

We focus here on the recommendations which will affect the way in which a range of dispute resolution professionals will have an ongoing role in dealing with the consequences of family violence in our society.


Family violence-related debt disputes

Economic abuse is a form of family violence and is recognised as such in a few Australian jurisdictions.

The Royal Commission heard that most women who seek assistance for family violence issues leave their relationship with debt. Through the use of deception or coercion, perpetrators may avoid responsibility for a range of debts and leave their former partners with substantial liabilities (RCFV Report, Volume IV, chapter 21 p.102). This is a form of economic abuse, which is increasingly recognised as a form of family violence across the Australian jurisdictions. A recent RMIT analysis of ABS data showed that nearly 16 per cent of women surveyed had a history of economic abuse.

Women who have family violence-debt often have trouble negotiating the consequences of that debt with service providers. In their report Stepping Stones: Legal Barriers to Economic Equality After Family Violence, Women’s Legal Service Victoria noted that ‘service providers such as energy retailers, telecommunication services and banks have low awareness of the difficulties faced by women experiencing family violence and are unhelpful when interacting with these customers.’ Professor Roslyn Russell has recently shown how staff in bank branches and call centres report dealing with customers who are experiencing, trying to leave, or have left abusive relationships, yet there is limited training for banking staff on family violence.

A major proportion of Australia’s dispute resolution services are offered through industry ombudsman and complaint handling services such as the Victorian Energy and Water Ombudsman and the Commonwealth Financial Services Ombudsman and Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. These services often use a combination of mediation, negotiation and conciliation to resolve disputes. It is clear these services are dealing with many disputes that arise with service providers as a result of family violence. Because such services are not part of the family violence system they may not have policies or training in place to identify or adequately address financial abuse and family violence.

The Royal Commission recommended that

  • the Victorian Energy and Water Ombudsman and the Commonwealth Financial Services Ombudsman and Telecommunications Ombudsman publicise the availability of their dispute-resolution processes to help victims of family violence resolve disputes (Recommendation 110)
  • comprehensive and ongoing training of customer service staff take place to help them identify customers experiencing family violence (Recommendation 109).

The Royal Commission’s recommendations are designed to develop employees’ capacity to understand, identify and respond to family violence within industry dispute resolution schemes so that victims of family violence can continue to access essential services such as household energy, water, telecommunications and financial services.


Negotiating family violence consent orders

Family Violence Intervention Orders (FVIOs) (also known as protection orders and apprehended violence orders in other jurisdictions), are orders made by the courts to protect a person from another family member who is perpetrating family violence.

There are often conditions attached to FVIOs which set out exactly what the perpetrator must do or not do in order to stop committing, and to prevent the future commission of, family violence. In Australia, FVIOs are made by state Magistrates’ courts.

The Royal Commission noted that ‘a high proportion’ of FVIOs are made by consent which means that the parties to the intervention order agree themselves to the FVIO and the conditions attached to the order which the Magistrate merely formalises (RCFV Report, Volume III, Chapter 16, p.134).

There is an incentive for perpetrators to settle orders by consent in the Victorian system because they can be made without the perpetrator admitting to any or all of the family violence allegations set out in the FVIO application.

However, for victims, there is a clear danger inherent in the negotiation process for consent orders, as described by the Commission:

‘the negotiation process involved in arriving at an order by consent may be opaque and variable depending on the situation, the parties and the presence of legal representatives. If there is a history of family violence between the parties, with everything that can entail – including an imbalance of power, fear, vulnerability, and the possibility of manipulation and coercion – it is extremely important that the negotiation process is properly managed. If the parties are not (or not adequately) legally represented, there is no guarantee that this will occur, and the result can be incomplete or inappropriate orders, whether on a primary application, a variation, extension or withdrawal, or a cross-application’ (RCFV Report, Volume III, Chapter 16, p.178).

Mediation is not formally part of the process for negotiating FVIOs in Victoria, although it is in the ACT, the only such jurisdiction in Australia to use mediation formally.

The danger of any negotiation process used to determine the terms of FVIOs is that it is the very acts of family violence that are being discussed and negotiated, and that a poor process may result in a poor order with conditions that fail to protect the victim and her children.

Because so little is known about the process for negotiating consent orders for FVIOs in Victoria, the Royal Commission adopted a cautious approach and recommended that a committee be established within the next three years to investigate how consent-based family violence intervention orders are currently negotiated and to develop a safe, supported negotiation process for victims (Recommendation 77). On this issue, the parallels to family dispute resolution are clear.


Restorative Justice and Family Violence

Restorative justice is a process which was developed from the criminal justice system which enables all parties who have a stake in an offence to come together to discuss the aftermath of the offence and implications for the future. While restorative processes have a criminal provenance, which makes them distinct from DR processes such as mediation and conciliation, the processes share in common a commitment to party empowerment and a sense that creative solutions can be found through ‘talking it out’ which would not be possible in the formal legal system.

The Royal Commission noted that while the justice system plays a fundamental role in protecting victims’ safety and promoting perpetrator accountability, that many women find the reality of the court process to be deeply dissatisfying and even re-traumatising: ‘A strong theme that emerged from consultations held by the Commission was the need for victims to understand the options available to them, and the process involved, and to be empowered to make their own decisions about what steps and outcomes are appropriate’ (RCFV Report, Volume IV, Chapter 22, p.136).

Restorative justice programs have the potential to provide family violence victims with the chance to be heard, to explain to the perpetrator what the impact of the violence has been and to be empowered to discuss future needs, including any reparations. Such a process potentially places great power in the hands of the family violence victim.

However, the same concerns can be raised about the use of restorative justice in family violence cases as there are about the use of family mediation in cases of family violence. The concerns about use of restorative justice in this context include unequal power relationships between victims and perpetrators, concerns about safety, and concerns about the appeal to apology and forgiveness which are part of the cycle of abuse in family violence.

The Commission concluded that restorative justice processes have the potential to assist victims of family violence to recover from the impact of the abuse and to mitigate the limitations of the justice system (RCFV Report, Volume IV, Chapter 22, p.143). The Commission recommended that within two years a pilot program be developed for the delivery of restorative justice options for victims of family violence which would have victims at its centre, incorporate strong safeguards, be based on international best practice, and be delivered by appropriately skilled and qualified facilitators (Recommendation 122).


Common elements of diverse family violence dispute resolution contexts?

So, what are the common elements of diverse family violence dispute resolution contexts? It is worth considering commonalities between the processes so that we can understand the nature of the dispute resolution content and process. This will better enable us to understand what elements are needed for dispute resolution processes across these diverse contexts.

We see the common elements of the diverse family violence dispute resolution processes as follows:

  1. Victim is part of dispute resolution process.

Across each of the three contexts, the victim of family violence will usually be part of the dispute resolution process. However, the victim may not be there in person (such as through resolution of disputes through ombudsman services, the dispute may be dealt with on the papers).

2. Perpetrator may or may not be part of dispute resolution process.

While the victims will be part of the process, the perpetrator may not always be there. For example, in debt disputes, the victim may be left with a debt and be unable to pay. The perpetrator may not be available or should not always be asked to explain or confirm his actions. However, in restorative justice conferences, the perpetrator may be there. In this case, safety issues must be paramount

3. Family violence may be hard to identify.

We know reporting levels of family violence are low. Matters in dispute may not initially present as a family violence matters. However, family violence may be central to matter, but extent of family violence may be hard to identify.

4. Family violence will affect how the victim will behave.

Victims of family violence are often vulnerable. The violence they have experienced will affect how they will behave in a legal or dispute resolution process.

5. Family violence is central to the nature of the dispute, the process and the outcome.


A “Safe and supported” mediation model

What then are the key elements of a safe and supported mediation process that could be used as the basis of new dispute resolution processes for cases involving family violence across a broad range of contexts? To develop these elements we draw from what we have learned in developing Coordinated Family Dispute Resolution in Australia from 2010.

We propose a “safe and supported” mediation model.

We have chosen to focus on a single dispute resolution process, mediation. Mediation is widely used. It offers flexibility and compromise between party empowerment and professional control of the process. Professional control of a process is central in cases of family violence where the risk of harm is great.

We believe that facilitative mediation is the best type of mediation in cases of family violence. A process like facilitative mediation carries with it the possibility of compromise between party autonomy and mediator control of the process necessary to provide a safe and supported negotiation process in the shadow of family violence. It also focuses on problem solving of the issue at hand, without attempting to remedy the relationship (as in transformative processes) which is arguably inappropriate in cases in family violence.

We believe that victim’s safety must always be the key priority in any dispute resolution process involving family violence. The victim’s safety must not be compromised because of her involvement in a legal process and the outcome of the negotiation must always be measured against the goal of ensuring safety for victims of family violence.

We focus on support because this is a key means of providing victims of family violence with the ability to participate in informal dispute resolution processes.


Elements of a “safe and supported” mediation process for matters involving family violence

Drawing from the CFDR model, the following are elements which we propose could be part of mediation processes involving family violence. These elements could apply across the full range of contexts mentioned above. It may be that some elements cannot be used in specific contexts. Nevertheless, dispute resolution processes for cases involving family violence should seek to implement as many of these elements as possible.

  1. That issues of safety and risk are placed at the heart of decision-making.
  2. The philosophy behind the dispute resolution process is that perpetrator accountability is a central objective of any mediation process that seeks to work effectively in contexts where there is a history of family violence.
  3. It is central that the family violence itself is not negotiated.
  4. A range of professionals must work together to achieve a safe process. It is critical that these diverse agencies and professionals share information and communicate effectively with each other.
  5. Specialist risk assessments must be conducted only by qualified and experienced family violence and men’s workers.
  6. A legally assisted, facilitative model of mediation should be employed.
  7. There must be acknowledgement of the concept of a ‘predominant aggressor’ in the dispute resolution process. This is especially important where there are cross-allegations of violence against each party, which increases the risk that tactical allegations of family violence could be used to cover up for legitimate allegations.
  8. Where perpetrators are involved in the dispute resolution process, the minimum expectation for participation in the model (and to receive its benefits such as free legal advice, counselling and other supports) is that perpetrators should have to acknowledge that family violence was an issue for their family, and that a family member believes that family violence is relevant to working out the future arrangements for the children.
  9. There must be training for dispute resolution practitioners in the nature of family violence and family violence identification

We acknowledge this this post presents the first stage in our thinking about the use of dispute resolution processes for the management or resolution of disputes beyond family law and in contexts of family violence.

More specific work needs to be done to create context and organisation-specific models of mediation which acknowledge the existence of family violence in disputes and to adequately address the needs of the parties in light of family violence.

We think that the effort that has been put into working with clients around family violence in family dispute resolution holds important lessons for those in other dispute resolution contexts.

The elements of a “safe and supported” mediation model for matters involving family violence that we propose are an important starting point in a conversation about the safety and needs of victims of family violence in our society.

Please let us know your thoughts as we continue to develop our model.

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Resolution of family law property disputes: Expectations and opportunities to keep clients away from the courts

FDR colleagues are invited to a talk on this issue by former Attorney General and now Family Court Justice Robert McClelland on Thursday, 27 April @ 5.30pm at Resolution Institute Level 1, 13-15 Bridge Street,  Sydney.

Most married or de facto couples acquire assets and liabilities during their relationship. Finalising arrangements for property can be complex, expensive and time consuming.

Join the Family Special Interest Group and our guest speaker Justice Robert McClelland to consider some of the issues in property dispute resolution including:

– Pre-trial obligation to make a genuine effort to resolve dispute before starting a case
– Requirement to attempt conciliation before a property matter is set down for hearing
– Operation of Chapter 26B of the Family Law Rules concerning arbitration.

Learn about expectations and opportunities to keep clients away from the courts and better assist in resolving these types of disputes.

About Justice Robert McClelland 

Justice McClelland was appointed a judge of the Family Court of Australia in June 2015 and has practised as a solicitor and barrister. He was elected to Federal Parliament in 1996 and served as Commonwealth Attorney General between 2007 and 2011.

As Attorney General he introduced measures to encourage DR including the Civil Dispute Resolution Act which requires parties to take genuine steps to resolve a dispute before commencing litigation in the Federal or the Federal Circuit Court. He also updated the International Arbitration Amendment Act 2010 and oversaw the implementation of the Model Commercial Arbitration Laws to align State and Territory arbitration laws in accordance with international best practice.

Justice McClelland has a BA LLB from the UNSW and an LLM from the University of Sydney. After being admitted to practice in 1982, he commenced working as an associate to Evatt J in the Federal Court of Australia.

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