On Scotland’s Election Day I was delighted to attend a celebration of the University of Strathclyde Mediation Clinic’s 100th mediation. This is quite a remarkable achievement for the Clinic as their first mediation took place in October 2012.
The Clinic provides a mediation service on a pro-bono basis, the majority of cases coming from the small claims court at Glasgow Sheriff Court and more recently the Clinic is now operating at Lanark Sheriff Court. It provides an opportunity for students on the post graduate courses in Mediation and Conflict Resolution to go beyond the theory and practice mediation in live cases supported by experienced mediators drawn from the Scottish Mediation Register.
By the end of 2015 of the small claims dealt with 63% had reached full agreement (many subsequently settle as a result of mediation) and of those cases the settlement terms of 81% had been fulfilled (this is a higher percentage that the fulfilment rate for small claims dealt with by the court). The higher rate of fulfilment is often put down the involvement of all of the parties agreeing the way forward rather than a ruling being made by the court.
At the celebration the keynote speaker was Sheriff Anwar who presides at Glasgow Sheriff Court and is often presiding when the small claims cases are dealt with on a Friday afternoon. She said that she very much welcomed the mediation service being available and that it showed “impressive statistics” and was “appreciated by the court users and Sheriffs”. The Sheriff outlined that sometimes parties are initially reticent to use mediation but that after a five minute chat with the mediators that any fears can be allayed. Having the opportunity also gives parties the opportunity to go to mediation without it seeming to be a sign of weakness in their case. The role of the Sheriff was described as that of seeking to negotiate a settlement between the parties, identifying facts and legal issues. With many self-represented parties there is often a raft of information that is brought to the court but the critical part is that people want to be heard and mediation provides that opportunity.
As is often the case at such a celebration event attention turns to what next. Sheriff Anwar said she was hopeful, that mediation would form a formal part of the new simple procedure process being discussed by the Scottish Civil Justice Council form introduction into the Scottish Courts. That is a view shared by the Scottish Mediation Network and we passionately believe that there is a great opportunity to take the experience of the University of Strathclyde Clinic, that of the Edinburgh Sheriff Court and of work that we have carried out at Airdrie Sheriff Court and to make mediation an integral part of the court system across Scotland.
In order to do that one of the key aspects that needs to be dealt with is that currently all these services are run on a pro-bono basis. Whilst saluting the mediators for volunteering their services it does not seem an appropriate way to be providing a civil justice system in Scotland. Apart from providing a different way for people to resolve their disputes, there are a number of benefits of having mediation as an option for parties in the courts across Scotland. As mediation is a flexible process there are options such as online and telephone mediation that could help improve access for people, the courts are very busy and if time can be freed up by using mediation that may help pressure on both the courts and the judiciary helping the system to function better for everyone who is using it.
My call is therefore for our incoming government to continue the work they have started and to ut the necessary resources in place to provide a mediation service that the new simple procedure can offer to people across Scotland. The Scottish Mediation Network has developed plans on how that could be delivered and sustained across the country and there are mediators poised to be able to help people to resolve their disputes.
There is an opportunity for Scotland to further enhance the reputation of its justice system by making mediation available giving people real choice in how they seek to resolve their disputes. The clinic has reached a hundred mediations in four years so how about we say that we want a thousand mediations in the Scottish Courts in the next four years.