Teaching Mediation In Brazil And Australia: Can We Improve Access To Justice?

This paper is part of a series presented at the 2018 7th ADR Research Network
Roundtable hosted by University of the Sunshine Coast Law School. The 8th ADR Research Network Roundtable will be held in December 2019 in Melbourne, hosted by LaTrobe Law School.

 

By Professor Cristiana Vianna Veras, Visiting Scholar at Flinders University 

 

The development of the mediation as an institution can be understood as global phenomenon, since several countries present different state and societal experiences of this form of conflict resolution. Although some countries have been working to institutionalize mediation for more than three decades, we can say that mediation is still a “young” experience and now seems to have spread everywhere. In Brazil, the institutionalization of mediation began in 2009 and was encouraged in the field of the Judiciary through a public policy to promote the application of consensual forms of conflict resolution that, through a discourse of social pacification and better adaptation of the form of treatment of social conflicts, sought to reduce the number of lawsuits, currently one of the biggest problems confronting the Brazilian judicial system.[1]

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Professor Cristiana Vianna Veras presenting her work at the 7th ADR Roundtable on 4 December 2018

Different actors participate in the applied field of mediation in Brazil. On the one hand, as a pioneer in this field, non-governmental organizations and private institutes, were first responsible for implementing the initial practical training of the first mediators, and have since multiplied in number. On the other hand, the State, or more specifically, the Judiciary has reserved to itself the task of conducting mediations. Alongside these two main actors, a third can now be added: Brazilian law schools, which also participate in mediation in different ways.

In Brazil, law schools are overseen by the federal government, through regulations determined by the Ministry of Education. All law courses must conform to a core curriculum specified by national directives, although each law school is free to interpret this normative guidance. Due to this national curriculum, all law courses cover a range of theoretical disciplines and many courses include in this curriculum a topic on alternative dispute resolution and/or mediation.

In addition to theoretical subjects, all Brazilian law courses are obliged to offer a Center of Legal Practice that can act from simulations (abstract cases) and / or from a real service aimed at low-income people, with some courses offering mediation simulations or offering this possibility of conflict resolution to the local community.

Hence, there are three distinct possible spaces for mediation in law courses in Brazil: a theoretical space, a space of simulation and a space for serving the low-income population. Creating new dialogue within and between these actors who participate in the movement toward institutionalizing mediation is one of the primary goals of my research.

One perspective that helps to better understand these dialogues is the phenomenon of access to justice captured by the metaphor of waves by Mauro Cappelletti and Bryant Garth.[2]  These scholars identified measures implemented by different countries to make legal services more efficient, to better protect collective rights and to make the highly bureaucratized Judiciary more informal.

Mediation is mainly connected with the third wave of Cappelletti, as it is included in the experiences of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), and the trilogy of arbitration, conciliation and mediation that together constitute the process of informal justice. However, mediation is not just an alternative way of conflict resolution. To understanding of its full scope and meaning we should add to the three waves of Cappelletti, a fourth wave identified by Kim Economides[3] in 1997, namely lawyers’ (and judges) access to justice. This fourth waves also raises the issue of what kind of justice it is that which we wish to give access to?
Since mediation is a way of resolving conflict by the “parties themselves” (but with the assistance of a mediator), it may define new criteria of justice – which do not necessarily correspond to the criteria of state/legal justice – in the light of the parties’ own understanding of what is fair and appropriate for them.

In this context, many questions arise: how does mediation – theoretical, simulated or practical – act in terms of the different access to justice waves? What impact does a course on theoretical mediation have on law students? How many law students will intend to use mediation in their professional practice? Is there a more appropriate form of teaching mediation in order to encourage students to work with mediation in their future professional practice? Does experience with the simulations and/or real cases brought by low in-come users encourage students to use mediation in their professional practice?

Also important, is the response of law students exposed to this new form of conflict resolution confined to Brazil? Or is it the case that, in other countries where mediation has been longer established, we find a different response? Do these countries still have a dominant adversarial legal culture? To try to answer these questions, I am conducting comparative and empirical research on law students from three universities: Flinders University, Fluminense Federal University (UFF/public) and Pontifical Catholic University (PUC/private). After comparing the process/methods of the teaching of mediation in Brazil and in Australia, and whether they motivate law students to work with mediation in their future professional practice, I will analyze the contribution of teaching mediation in law school to the process of improving access to justice.

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There was strong engagement with Chris’ work during her session, including from commentator Dr Lola Akin Ojelabi, LaTrobe Law

Professor Cristiana Vianna Veras is a Visiting Scholar at Flinders University – Adelaide/SA in 2018/2019. She is also a Professor at School of Law of Federal Fluminense University – Rio de Janeiro/Brasil. Cris can be contacted on veras04@hotmail.com and cristiana.viannaveras@flinders.edu.au

[1] To understand the process of implementing of mediation in the Brazilian Judiciary and the main objective behind the official state discourse, see two studies of cases: Kilpo, Klever Paulo Leal. Dilemas da mediação de conflitos no Tribunal de Justiça do Rio de Janeiro. Tese de doutorado apresentada à Universidade Gama Filho. Rio de Janeiro: 2014 and Veras, Cristiana. Um estranho na orquestra, um ruído na música: a apropriação da mediação pelo poder judiciário a partir de uma experiência no Cejusc do TJRJ. Tese apresentada à Universidade Federal Fluminense. Rio de Janeiro: 2015.

[2]  Cappelletti, Mauro e Garth, Bryant. Acesso à Justiça. Porto Alegre: Sérgio Fabris, 1988.

[3] Economides, Kim. “Lendo as ondas do “Movimento de Acesso à Justiça”: epistemologia versus metodologia?” in Dulce Chaves Pandolf e outros (orgs). Cidadania, justiça e violência. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Fundação Getúlio Vargas, 1999. English version: Economides, Kim “Reading the Waves of Access to Justice” Bracton Law Journal, Vol.31, 1999, pp.58-70.

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Mediation in NSW schools

by Frances Richards.

Frances is a volunteer adjudicator for the Law Society of New South Wales mock mediation competition. Frances is an accredited mediator and an Adjunct Lecturer at the School of Law, Sydney, The University of Notre Dame Australia.

Mock mediation grandfinal

2017 Mock mediation Grand Final – this was the winning team Trinity Catholic College Lismore, with presiding adjudicators on either end of the team in the black jacket (Lara Bishkov), white jacket (Monika Lama) and pink jacket (Helen Miedzinski). Photo courtesy Frances Richards

This article is about initiatives to introduce mediation to students in NSW schools.

The NSW Department of Education offers peer mediation programs for primary and secondary public schools in NSW. These programs are one of the conflict resolution strategies available for schools to adopt. The Department provides resources for schools to use and intends to update these resources. The resources can be found at: Peer Mediation.

The Law Society of NSW organizes an annual mock mediation competition for secondary public and private school students. The competition provides an opportunity for students to develop, refine and practice cooperative problem solving and conflict resolution skills.

What are the objectives of these initiatives to introduce mediation in NSW schools?

According to the Department’s resources, the peer mediation programs are intended to ‘empower, prepare and support students and staff to deal successfully with conflict situations at school, at home and in later life.’

According to the Mock Mediation Manual 2018, the competition aims to:

“ Recognise the opportunities for change and progress that can result from conflict and improve the ability of students to manage conflict in a way that leads to a positive outcome

Acknowledge the increasing use of mediation by courts and the community, and equip students with the skills necessary to participate in a mediation process.

Educate students about the importance of the process in tandem with constructive dialogue.”

How does mediation in schools work?

The peer mediation program involves one or two trained student mediators assisting two disputants through a structured process to reach resolution of a dispute. Peer mediation programs are coordinated by staff trained in mediation, who provide ongoing supervision and support to student mediators. Peer mediation programs are intended for minor disputes such as gossip and rumour spreading, name calling, friendship problems, teasing, loss of property and exclusion.

The mock mediation competition is open to students in years 9 and 10. Each school participating in the competition has 1 team with a maximum of 9 students.  Each team participates in 3 rounds. All teams in the competition receive a certificate of participation. The two teams who reach the grand final receive a certificate and a medal. The winning team receives a trophy.  The competition requires involvement and support from teachers as coaches and mediators as adjudicators.

To receive points for the competition, the students must demonstrate skills including:

Listening, Brainstorming, Empathy, Judgment, Questioning, Decision making, Communication, Teamwork, Problem solving, Leadership, Negotiation, Time management, Assertiveness and Reflecting.

What are the benefits for students?

Both the peer mediation program and the mock mediation competition are intended to benefit the students, staff, schools and community.

The intended benefits for students are:

  • Skill development including communication, listening and problem-solving skills
  • Assuming greater responsibility for solving their own problems
  • Creating an awareness of their responsibilities when dealing with others
  • Furthering personal development and self-improvement
  • Increasing self-esteem
  • Learning to manage conflict in a productive way

In addition to the mediation competition context, acquiring these skills may be of importance for the future employability of the students. A recent study of the Canadian workforce by the Royal Bank of Canada shows that these are the types of skills students will require to negotiate the future. The study found that “An assessment of 20,000 skills rankings across 300 occupations and 2.4 million expected job openings shows an increasing demand for foundational skills such as critical thinking, co-ordination, social perceptiveness, active listening and complex problem solving.”

The study also found that “Virtually all job openings will place significant importance on judgement and decision making and more than two thirds will value an ability to manage people and resources.”

The findings of the study are contained in the report “Humans Wanted How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption” published on 26 March 2018.

What are the other benefits?

The intended benefits for schools and the wider community include:

  • reduced conflict in the school environment
  • reduced bullying and aggressive behaviour
  • reduced tension in the classroom environment
  • reduced time spent by staff on minor disputes
  • safer and more harmonious school environment
  • maximising the opportunity for learning for all students
  • promoting open communication to resolve contentious issues
  • maximising the benefits of cooperative problem-solving
  • encouraging mediation and negotiation as an alternative to litigation

What does the research show?

An exploratory study into a peer mediation program in a primary school context in NSW collected data that demonstrated therapeutic benefits for the school community, that students reported that participation in the peer mediation program had benefited them in their lives after school and that the training and knowledge obtained from the program can be applied in different situations (McWilliam, N., A school peer mediation program as a context for exploring therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ): Can a peer mediation program inform the law?, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry (2010), doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2010.09.002.)

Research has also been conducted into the use of mediation as an educational strategy in schools in other countries. One recent study of mediation in Spanish schools found evidence that the programs did teach students skills that they do not have the opportunity to learn in other subjects and to manage their own conflicts (Raga, L. G., Sanchis, I. C., Mora, A. M., & Santana, G. R., (2016). Strengths and weaknesses of the school mediation from the perspective of students in secondary education. Pedagogía Social: Revista Interuniversitaria, (28), 203-215. 10.7179/PSRI_2016.28.15.)

Conclusion

As an adjudicator for the mock mediation competition I have observed the students participating enthusiastically and reflecting on their experience of how hard it is to actively listen, what it feels like not to be heard and how hard it is to find strategies to unlock deadlock.

The potential of the peer mediation program and the mock mediation competition to deliver their intended benefits is limited by the time, resources and commitment of staff and volunteers.

Research is needed to provide evidence of the benefits of students participating in peer mediation programs and mock mediation competitions. Such evidence would assist schools in deciding to allocate time and resources to expanding the use of mediation initiatives. Submissions to conduct research in NSW public schools can be directed to: <http://www.serap.det.nsw.edu.au/>. Information about participating in the mock mediation competition in 2019 can be found at: Law Society Mock Mediation

Forty years of anti-discrimination law — how far have we come?

This article was originally published in Impact on 24 April 2018

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Photo credit: x1klima, Woman and Grief

Anti-discrimination law was introduced in Victoria in 1978. But after 40 years we don’t seem to be any closer to equality for all. Could establishing a corporate watchdog be the answer?

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Photo credit: Classic Film, Creative Commons

Wanted: Female, 22-25, for a secretarial role. Prefer single.

Imagine running a job ad like this today. Yet, before the advent of anti-discrimination laws, employers were able to limit applicants to very specific age groups, sex and marital status.

The introduction of Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act in 1977 put a line in the sand for sexual discrimination in the workplace. While race discrimination laws already existed at a federal level, the various state governments brought in their own legislation to cover issues such as sex, age and disability discrimination.

In 1979 flight instructor and qualified pilot Deborah Wardley took Ansett Airlines to task under the new legislation after she was prohibited from being employed by them as a pilot due to her childbearing potential.

Writing to the Women’s Electoral Lobby, General Manager, Reg Ansett said: “we have a good record of employing females in a wide range of positions within our organisation but we have adopted a policy of only employing men as pilots. This does not mean that women cannot be good pilots, but we are concerned with the provision of the safest and most efficient air service possible [and so] we feel that an all-male pilot crew is safer than one in which the sexes are mixed.”

Subsequently, the case came before the High Court of Australia and much to the chagrin of Reg Ansett, Wardley won and went on to a successful career as a pilot.

Not far in 40 years

Fast-forward 40 years and have we really made that much progress?

Monash Business School’s Dr Dominique Allen doesn’t think so. And the move to private mediation is the main reason.

Dr Allen explains that in the early days of the legislation a number of prominent cases helped weed out the most blatant forms of discrimination and served to educate the public.

“When Deborah Wardley won the case, it was a significant victory for women fighting discrimination in the workplace,” Dr Allen says.

“But our legislation has really stagnated since then.”

Since the courts moved towards mediation and conciliation, most anti-discrimination cases are settled privately.

“The public thinks that discrimination was addressed in the 1980s and that it doesn’t happen anymore,” Dr Allen says.

And there are many reasons why people settle: the exorbitant costs involved, the risk of more costs if you lose, damage to their reputation and importantly the psychological pressures of being involved in litigation.

Most people don’t want to spend years pursuing a claim, and others who have lost their job simply move on and find another one, rather than front up to court.

While this makes perfect sense, it means that the whole system has become privatised — taking place behind closed doors so people aren’t aware that discrimination still happens and how it is resolved.

What does compliance look like?

While settling cases may seem sensible, from a business or employer perspective, they don’t know what compliance looks like.

There is no deterrent aspect – they can’t see that someone else has made a claim against a certain issue or behaviour and make moves to prevent it from happening in their own organisation.

“There are problems with the system which focuses on the individual rather than the broader society,” Dr Allen says “We cannot rely on an individual to address the discrimination to “name, blame and claim” it as discrimination.”

She advocates a watchdog similar to corporate regulators to shift the focus to the employers and to business because they are best placed to foresee the impact of their actions on equality.

She proposes that such an enforcement body could make claims on behalf of people or represent them, in the way the Fair Work Ombudsman can in the industrial relations sphere; currently, there is not an equivalent body for equal opportunity.

“There’s nobody like the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) or the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)  that can step in and enforce the law or pursue a case – it relies on an individual who is often a vulnerable person,” she says.

Other options to improve the current system include putting requirements on employers and business to act first, rather than waiting until discrimination occurs. Dr Allen says the UK does something similar; public authorities need to have “due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity” in their undertakings.

Tickets please

Another early case involved Victorian trams issuing scratch tickets that were difficult for visually impaired people to use, while removing conductors who had traditionally assisted people with different disabilities to use public transport. Nine people with various physical disabilities took the Public Transport Corporation to court on the basis that these actions were a form of indirect discrimination. The judges of the High Court agreed.

Dr Allen says that it was one of the unusual instances where the court ruled that it was not just going to compensate people, it ordered the government to review the ticketing system on trams.

It would be unusual today to see a wide order like this. Now, court-awarded damages are fairly insignificant amounts.  Yet Dr Allen says it is one of the things that is needed to tackle discrimination effectively.

She says that while having the conciliation system is good – in that it saves costs and the deal remains confidential – from a societal perspective it doesn’t address broader issues.

Bring in the stick

From a business perspective, low amounts ordered by courts are not a deterrent and don’t encourage compliance with the law. Dr Allen says: “there is no big stick to wave if people are not doing the right thing.  There is no fear, as would be the case if the ACCC was pursuing them, that a hefty penalty may be imposed if they’re found to have acted unlawfully.”

So in 40 years have we addressed the discrimination in this state?

“I think we have come a long way. There are barriers that have been broken down and blatant forms of discrimination don’t happen anymore but there’s still much more than the law could do to address those hidden systemic forms of discrimination,” Dr Allen says.

Victoria’s legislation was modernised in 2010 and Dr Allen is currently working on research to see how effective these changes have been which is due later in the year.

This article was first published on Impact. Read the original article

 

On the passing of Frank Sander: A critical, grateful view from the Antipodes

Frank Sander, dispute resolution visionary and hero, recently died, aged 91.

I thought it would be worthwhile exploring some of Sander’s achievements and impact from an Australian civil justice perspective. In particular, I will consider the relevance of  Sander’s multi-door court house idea to Australia today.

For many years, I have been teaching Non-Adversarial Justice to undergraduate law students at Monash University. The wonderful, far-ranging discussions we have in those classes have given me the chance to reflect on the impact of Sander’s work here in Melbourne, Australia.

Sander was a professor of law and dispute resolution at Harvard University in the USA. He is associated with developing the ‘multi-door courthouse‘ idea: that a single court could triage the civil matters that came before it and provide a range of dispute resolution services (both litigious and settlement-based)  depending on what is needed in each case. A multi-door courthouse is a dispute resolution centre where a grievant, with the help of a screening officer at the court, is directed to an appropriate process or series of processes. This approach is underpinned by the view that court costs and delay are increased by ill-matched disputes and processes.

In many ways the multi-door courthouse is the civil equivalent of the criminal problem-oriented court, which aims to reduce re-offending by addressing the underlying causes of criminal behaviour.

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Multi-door courthouse: right for Australia? image Credit: Dan Boss, Exit at the Acropolis Museum, Creative Commons

Sander is also credited with developing the now ubiquitous idea of fitting the forum to the fuss (that each matter should use an appropriate dispute resolution process). In Australia in 2018, this an uncontroversial goal, which, unfortunately, is still a long way from reality in the civil justice system.

To develop ideas that become pervasive and which define a field has a something to do with luck (timing, place, race, gender etc). But not every lucky person has clear thinking, vision and the ability to convince others. Sander was clearly an ideas man and we listened. The impact of his thinking on civil justice systems and court practice is significant, even in far-away places such as Australia.

Sander gave a famous speech in which he first set out his ideas on the civil justice system at the 1976 Pound conference held in St Paul, Minnesota and organised by then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Warren Burger. Many, including Jeffrey Stempel regard this conference as the genesis of the modern ADR and court reform movement.  Stempel argues that this conference was notable in its criticism of the litigation process, its promotion of ADR by its “all star cast” including the cream of the American court and legal establishment as well is the publishing of its proceedings in West’s Federal Rules Decisions, guaranteeing wide exposure of the conference’s pro-ADR sentiments, especially to the nation’s federal judges.  The proceedings of the Pound Conference can be found in ‘National Conference on the Causes of Popular Dissatisfaction with the Administration of Justice’ (Apr. 7-9, 1976) in 70 F.R.D. 79 (1976). The 1976 conference has, of course, spawned the contemporary Global Pound conferences.

Sander’s speech was at the heart of what the conference acheived. According to Diane Levin, at the 1976 Pound Conference, Sander

reminded conference participants of the limitations of traditional litigation with its “use of a third party with coercive power, the usually ‘win or lose’ nature of the decision, and the tendency of the decision to focus narrowly on the immediate matter in issue as distinguished from a concern with the underlying relationship between the parties.” He urged conference participants to envision alternatives, a “rich variety of different processes, which, I would submit, singly or in combination, may provide far more ‘effective’ conflict resolution.” And he reminded them of “the central quality of mediation”, namely “its capacity to reorient the parties toward each other, not by imposing rules on them, but by helping them to achieve a new and shared perception of their relationship, a perception that will redirect their attitudes and dispositions toward one another.”

This is a call for the integration of ‘ADR’ with the ordinary everyday business of civil courts. (There is a very readable exploration of the origins of Sander’s Pound paper  here).

More than 40 years later, Sander’s call has largely been answered.  We know that settlement has always been part of civil litigation (thanks Marc Galanter for giving us the term ‘litigotitation’). But since Sander gave that speech, various forms of ADR, especially mediation and arbitration, have become part of standard court practice in most jurisdictions. For example, the Supreme Court of NSW offers both mediation and arbitration for civil matters under Parts 4 and 5 of the Civil Procedure Act 2005 (NSW). Referral to ADR can be mandatory in most Australian courts. Court-connected ADR services in Australia are provided by in-house staff or by external service providers.

However, most Australian courts could not be called multi-door courthouses. One reason why, is that formalised dispute resolution screening processes are not in place in most Australian courts. (The NSW Land and Environment Court is a clear exception).

What I think Sander didn’t quite get it right is that his focus was largely on the courts. To my mind, the locus of conflict and dispute resolution is not at the pointy court-end of the dispute resolution pyramid, but the heavier bottom-part. Most people who have a ‘legal problem’ don’t go near a court but choose or are forced to use other methods of dealing with their matter. These methods include direct action such as physical retaliation, seizure of property or removal of offending objects, informal negotiation or exit and avoidance (‘lumping’ the problem). That’s certainly what goes on in my house!

Court-based triage and assessment of problems is going to offer very little to most people who never even conceive of their ‘problems’ as court-worthy nor have the funds to litigate. When researchers measure ADR use, there is always very low awareness of ADR processes in the community and low uptake and use of formal ADR services. Even ADR services are not the only answer.

The multi-door courthouse doesn’t reflect more recent government efforts to encourage efficiency in the civil justice system in Australia and the UK. Pre-action protocols/procedures have been implemented widely in England and Wales following the Lord Woolf Report and more sparingly (but significantly) in Australia. Pre-action procedures encourage early settlement of disputes, full disclosure of information between parties and, where the matter cant be resolved, the narrowing of issues in dispute, but all before proceedings have commenced. Pre-action procedures are important because they force the location of ADR services away from the courts and towards pre-trial services offered by non-court providers or undertaken informally. Tania Sourdin argues that pre-action procedures are a significant shift away from Sander’s multi-door courthouse and towards  a “more modern multi-option  dispute resolution model.”

I would argue that they key idea behind Sander’s multi-door courthouse idea, matching the forum to the fuss, should and does still exist as a guiding principle of Australian civil justice systems. While the location of dispute resolution activity has shifted away from the courts (in Australia at least) Sander’s ideas have shaped the civil justice landscape of our country.

Thank you, Frank.

Aspects of this post are based upon ‘Chapter 7: ADR: Appropriate or Alternative Dispute Resolution’ in King, Freiberg Batagol & Hyams Non-Adversarial Justice (2nd ed, 2014).

Experiencing the Potential of Mediation

The Australian ADR academic community is committed to ensuring that ADR is embedded across the syllabus of Australian Law Schools. This has been assisted by the agreement that ADR will be delivered within Civil Procedure as part of the Priestley 11.

This is an important achievement and owes some of its success to the efforts of our own ADR Research Network members who have championed the change – including, for example, Rachael Field and Kathy Douglas. As part of building the value of ADR teaching and learning, we continually seek opportunities for students to experience the potential of ADR processes, and to develop as practitioners whose skills are relevant nationally and internationally.

The ICC International Commercial Mediation Competition is one such opportunity. An annual event offered in Paris, the ICC now also offers an annual Asia-Pacific Commercial Mediation Competition, for teams who wish to compete with our Asia-Pacific neighbours.

I am just back from Paris where the 4 team-members from UNSW, were this year’s  competition winners.

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Team UNSW ICC Winners 2018. Photo Credit: ICC, with permission

Approached by Kluwer to blog about the competition and the opportunities it provides to students internationally, I was delighted share my views about its enduring value which stretches far beyond the competition itself.

My blogpost includes seven insights that provide a foundation for successfully coaching a team as I have had the privilege to do for the past 12 years. I also hope my insights might be a resource for those who are teaching negotiation, mediation and dispute resolution at a tertiary level.

See you in Paris 2019!

What’s in a frame? Power, control and desire in the experience of family mediation.

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We bring our readers another blog post, written by Assoc Prof Jill Howieson. The post is version of paper presented at the just concluded ADR Research Network Roundtable, 4 -5- December 2017 #ADRRN2017. Happy reading!

“By the tragic gap I mean the gap between the hard realities around us and what we know is possible — not because we wish it were so, but because we’ve seen it with our own eyes.” —Parker J. Palmer

In 2011, I wrote on the Kluwer Mediation blog. I wrote about the same transcripts from the family mediations that I have analysed for this paper. In 2011, I wrote that I was reading about desire in these transcripts. I had returned to my 1985 language, literature and culture textbook, Modern Literary Theory, and to psychoanalytic and linguistic theories to try to understand what I was reading.

I was drawn particularly to Lacan and Foucault, and their analysis of language. A few years on and Parker J Palmer captivates me with his notion of the tragic gap –“the gap between the hard realities around us and what we know is possible.

Now these concepts converge. Jacques Lacan’s lack, or the “endless chain of signifiers” that we use in pursuit of a ‘real’ satisfaction or desire; Michel Foucault’s recognisable objects (or hierarchies) of importance, and the practices that derive from them that we create to uphold power; and Parker J Palmer’s tension gap, where we “faithfully hold the tension between reality and possibility.” These are all concepts that can inform our understandings about mediation.

Firstly, I wondered if we as mediators do not ‘faithfully hold the tension’; namely, the tension between what parties say they want and what they desire. The present analyses of the transcripts suggests that mediators can create tight frames for their mediation discourses and thereby impose a control on the parties’ language, and thus on their needs and desires – or at least their acknowledgement of their needs and desires.

The Foucauldian analysis alerted us to the power that mediators can create through their language. It showed that a mediator’s language could create recognisable objects or hierarchies of importance, which has the effect of elevating these objects and giving them power. The mediators in the study were able to elevate the status of various ‘objects’ including the notion of ‘good parents’ who will compromise and come to agreements, and parents who displayed calm rational ways of disputing or negotiating through their choice of words. By elevating these objects, the mediators could control the practices that flowed from them. For instance, where the mediators accorded importance to the notion of ‘good parents’ and excluded ‘naughty parents’ from the discourse, this empowered the mediators to push the ‘naughty parents’ into attending child-focussed sessions.

Further, with their language, the mediators seemed to create frameworks for the mediation that would cause the parties to work within those discoursal frames.  Through a repetition of Court-focused words, the mediators created court-focused frames, which had the effect of creating fear in the parties and empowered the mediators to push for agreement (to keep the parties out of court).  The parties would follow the mediator’s language and tailor their conversation to suit regardless of whether this was where they wanted to go or not. For instance, a discoursal frame of court had the result of moving the parties towards plans and agreements, and took them away from their ‘real’ fears and desires.

Further, the results revealed that mediators would listen according to their mediation orientation. If mediators worked within a settlement orientated frame, then they would listen for agreements or signals that might lead to agreements and use interventions to suit, such as writing options on the whiteboard and recording agreements.  On the other hand, mediators working within a ‘best interests of the child’ framework would listen for examples about the child’s perspective and how the children might be experiencing the separation, and then choose child-focussed interventions to encourage the parents to think of themselves as parents rather than as disputants.

Essentially, it seemed that despite their best intentions, the mediators would often miss the real desires of the parties and/or ignore the power discourse that they were creating as they pushed towards certain outcomes rather than sitting in the process tension of possibility.

According to Lacan, needs, if left unattended (or are reframed), do not disappear but turn into desire. In 2011, I asked what language in mediation do we have to address the parties’ unmet needs and desires. Now, I ask, how do we even hear these desires and needs when we mask them so well with our own desires for outcomes?

If we want to hear the desires of the parties (and I am not saying that all mediators do) then we need to begin to listen differently. We need to listen for the structures of desire in mediation that tell us what it is that the parties crave. We need to sit in the process-outcome tension and listen to the repetitions; the patterns and the experience of the parties so that they can access their true selves and their true desires, and then tell us what these are if they need to.

The Lacanian analysis revealed that the parties would often repeat words or patterns of words that would give ideas about their desires:

  • their attachment desires (I haven’t found someone worth living with and having my children involved with; I don’t live with somebody that helps me share my rent, helps me share my bills).
  • desire to be a good parent or better person (But that will change in the next … probably ten weeks…that will change), or
  • a desire to give the children what they perceived they needed (I’ve always said to M and to a mediator that assessed me …They’re four boys. They need their dad).

 

These examples of repetition occurred within conversations about which school the children would go to and who would pay for the children’s after-school sport activities—they were not so easily identifiable as desires.

So, what do parties say as they seek attachment to calm their unattached selves, or calmness to keep their selves intact in the chaos of conflict? What hidden desires does their language conceal? In the transcripts, there were prolonged, sometimes nonsensical discussions about the location, denomination and even the principal of the children’s schools—signifiers perhaps? There were discussions about the children’s dental plan or child payments —masquerading as desires for closure and the ‘gestalt’ perhaps?

We can never really know, but we can guess. We can sit in the tension gap of the unfolding of meanings and the ongoing and reflexive nature of mediation. The research shows that mediators tend to focus on the agreements more so than the parties do. The parties’ conversations tended more towards an articulation of what they were experiencing rather than towards concrete agreements.  We could look at the relationship between language, outcomes and experience more closely.  As Parker J Palmer writes, tension in life is ‘inevitable, inexorable, [and] inescapable’.  We could use this tension and assist the parties to make meaning out of their situations, actions and desires; to move from the jumble of conflict – the chaos – to the destination of desire, or at least understanding their desire; to make meaning in the disorganised realm, whether of experience or thought, and sort this out into an understanding of needs.

But, what mediation language do we use? What do we use as signifiers? And what desire is repressed as we substitute our language of desire for the language of courts, or child development or parties’ needs?

In 2011, I wondered whether, in every mediation, we were selling ourselves short. I wondered whether, with our future focus, our discourse of agreement, as we shape and mould, whether we were trying to camouflage that which is continually trying to show itself – our gaps, our cracks, our ugliness, our humanity, our beauty, our desires! I think in 2017, the answer might be a resounding yes.

 

 

 

 

Hybrids have arrived – hosted by the beautiful city of Vienna

Hybrid processes are not new to those of us who teach and write in the ADR space. We have all heard of arb-med and med-arb. Some of us have even heard of Baseball Arbitration, Night Baseball Arbitration and Medaloa.

Step into the practitioner’s world and the view is different.

Here the processes of mediation and arbitration remain distant strangers, practised and accredited separately. Few practitioners have dual qualifications and even those who do are rarely comfortable with the concept of offering a hybrid process.

The next generation of practitioners is being given the opportunity of seeing things differently via a new student mooting program.

The starting point is the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot (Vis Moot) which has just reached its 24th anniversary.

This moot tests the oral and written prowess of students in dealing with a complex international commercial conflict. This long established arbitration competition now has a sibling.

town hall vienna

View of the historic Town Hall in Vienna – site of the competition cocktail party. Photo Copyright Rosemary Howell

Established three years ago, the IBA-VIAC Consensual Dispute Resolution Competition (CDRC) commences in Vienna on July 10th at the beautiful University of Economics and Business (Wu Wien). Students participate either as negotiators or as mediators with separate scoring and evaluation for both roles.

The competition follows the Vis Moot and draws on the same case study (amended to remove all the procedural challenges of the arbitration). The competition opens with the news that the arbitration has been adjourned for a little over a week to give the parties the opportunity to see if they can resolve the conflict by mediation.

The competition gives an important signal that extends far beyond the students who are participating. The working committee drafting the problems has required consultation between arbitrators and mediators and encouraged a collaboration that is not often seen. Expert assessors too are being given experience in both the arbitration and mediation arenas.

The significant outcome is that not only is the next generation of practitioners being given the chance to consider hybrids up close, but practitioners are also joining the dots to draw together practices that once were very separate.

A great outcome.