Pursuing a court action to assert your legal rights is not for the faint-hearted. Even the most straightforward County Court case can take at least 12 months to get to hearing. Giving evidence is not an enticing prospect particularly when your opponent’s barrister is intent on twisting everything you say. An adverse outcome can be financially crippling. It’s no wonder that politicians, judges and professional bodies are increasingly encouraging alternative means of resolving disputes.
One such means is mediation. Parties to a dispute can voluntarily appoint a mediator who will attempt to independently facilitate a settlement. His or her role is neutral with the parties retaining control of the entire process. Agreement will not be imposed and the mediator will not express an opinion on the respective merits. Confidentiality is paramount, and if the mediation is unsuccessful any concessions made during its course cannot subsequently be relied on. The environment in which it is conducted is more relaxed than the gladiatorial arena of the Courts and the solutions achieved not subject to the strictures of the reliefs which judges have power to award. You’ve lost very little if it doesn’t work. You can opt out of the process at any stage and embark on litigation if circumstances dictate.
Members of the Law Society’s Dispute Resolution Service are reporting a marked increase in the uptake of methods of alternative dispute resolution, testament to the fact that more often than not, they work.
Shaun Fisher, as an accredited mediator and member of the Law Society of Northern Ireland’s Dispute Resolution Service (www.mediatorsni.com), has conducted several mediations both as mediator and as representative of one of the parties. In his experience:
- From the appointment of the mediator the process takes only a few weeks
- A user-friendly venue such as a hotel or conference centre is more conducive to a successful outcome than a formal court environment
- Innovative solutions can be crafted many of which would have been beyond the competence of a Court
- The increased polarity of litigation is avoided: parties invariably profess themselves happy with the outcome and the process
- Relationships between the parties can be preserved
- Without the need for barristers and experts very substantial costs savings can be made
There are very few types of disputes which do not lend themselves to resolution by mediation. It is an option that we at Fisher Law are keen to explore at every opportunity.