Thursday, 28 June 2012

Mediation Works

A growing trend is for lawyers to train as mediators. Mediation is seen as a useful additional service to provide for clients. Usually, it is offered in tandem with a lawyers’ existing specialism such as family or commercial law. Most importantly, mediation is increasingly recognised as a means of solving disputes, as it is cheaper than litigation and avoids fracturing, sometimes irretrievably, the relationship between the parties. LAG believes that mediation can be a powerful method of alternative dispute resolution, but there is a need for a wider understanding about the mediation process, its advantages and limitations.

Mediators are non-judgemental neutral third parties who seek to bring about solutions through facilitating discussions between the parties in a dispute to reach an agreement by consensus. For this to work the process must be entered into on a voluntary basis, with the parties controlling the mediation process and being free to walk away from it at any time. Mediation has to take place on a private and confidential basis, with the parties deciding if they wish to disclose any eventual settlement to a court. Discussions around the options for a settlement have to be carried out on a without prejudice basis in order to prevent parties being forced to accept solutions they have not agreed to.

There is no national accreditation and regulatory scheme which covers mediation services, apart from in family mediation. There is a need for a standard professional qualification for mediators which would require an accepted level of competence for a person to practice as a mediator, whether they are working in family, workplace, community or, civil law dispute mediation. As with other professions this regulation should be undertaken by an independent professional body for mediators.

A fundamental principle, which should be common across all mediation, is that in cases involving legal rights parties need to have access to legal advice. Without this, an estranged wife or husband in a divorce case for example can believe, rightly or wrongly, that if they had been able to go to court they would have obtained a better result. This can risk injustice through people agreeing to solutions which are inferior to what the law allows for or, the mediation process unravelling with no agreement.

A requirement to consider mediation in small claims before the country court is due to be introduced and in family law it is already compulsory to consider mediation before taking a case to court. The government is right to try and persuade parties in dispute to look at mediation, but they are also, withdrawing legal aid for most family cases from April next year, as part of a their cuts to the civil justice system. This is likely to lead to many unrepresented parties clogging up the court system as in many family disputes access to legal advice is a prerequisite to resolve problems and without it mediation alone cannot provide a solution.

The mediation process can help former partners in a relationship reach solutions that deal with the practicalities of a break-up, such as contact and residence arrangements for children and settling financial support. Perhaps, mediation’s greatest strength in family cases is that it can contribute to re-establishing a relationship between estranged couples on the basis of mutually agreed solutions to disputes. Ultimately, it is not the mediator’s role to decide on the fairness of the outcome. Their duty is to ensure the mediation process has been fair and equitable and it is up to the parties to reach mutually agreed solutions.

LAG has just published, Making mediation work for you- a practical handbook by Kate Aubrey-Johnston.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Award for Legal Action

Legal Action has won journal of the year from the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL).

At the association’s annual dinner last Friday (15 June), LAG’s Director, Steve Hynes, received the award on behalf of the journal’s editor, Val Williams, and assistant editor, Louise Povey. It is the second time Legal Action has won the award. The Legal Action journal started forty years ago as a photocopied bulletin of the Legal Action Group, it was renamed Legal Action in 1984.

Susan Scorey, the president of BIALL, said that the judging panel had been ‘unanimous in its praise of the journal’ saying it is a ‘genuine journal’ which covers areas of law otherwise little addressed, it is ‘well presented and logically organised’ and that the material was current with ‘good referencing’. One of the nominations received for the award described Legal Action as ‘an excellent title for keeping up to date on certain areas of law’ as well as being good value for money.

Val Williams, commenting on the award, said that she and Louise Povey would like to thank the members of BIALL, ‘This prestigious award is an important recognition that Legal Action is highly thought of by a respected group of legal information professionals. We would like to thank and acknowledge the other members of our Legal Action team, that is, our contributors and production staff, without whom, we would not be able to produce our monthly “baby”.’

The BIALL annual dinner took place at the association’s conference which was held this year in Belfast. The event was attended by around 300 delegates who work in law libraries in universities, law firms and barristers chambers. The conference exhibition included stands from most of the major legal publishers, book suppliers and distributors.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Inspirational Legal Aid Awards Evening

Last night the legal aid world gathered to celebrate at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards, better known as the LALYs. This is the tenth year of the LALYs and once again the awards proved to be an inspirational celebration of the work of legal aid practitioners despite the gloom caused by the pending cuts.

Awards were made for young solicitor, young barrister and legal aid barrister, as well as for lawyers in individual categories of law – family, social welfare, mental health, immigration and criminal law. The LALYs are organised by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) which represents the interests of legal aid lawyers. The evening was full of touching stories about the dedication of the lawyers who work in legal aid. For example, a colleague of Eileen Bye, nominated for immigration lawyer of the year, had told the LALY judging panel of how she would ‘filch clothes from her son’s wardrobe for clients’. A client of Bushra Ali, also nominated for the immigration lawyer prize, described her as ‘like a heart surgeon who has given me a new heart and a new lease of life’.

Winners included Rachel Horman, of Watson Ramsbottom solicitors based in Blackburn. She specialises in domestic violence cases and commented on accepting the award for family legal aid lawyer that women ‘are attacked over 37 times on average before they go to anyone for help’. Another winner was Turpin & Miller. The Oxford-based solicitors won firm of the year and in accepting the award stressed that fee earners in the firm work together to resolve the clusters of problems clients face.

The cuts in scope to legal aid planned by the government for April next year were never far from people’s minds last night. Raj Chada, who won the criminal defence lawyer LALY commented, ‘Our clients are willing to stand-up and say legal aid is an essential public service and should be funded’. Michael Mansfield QC, who chaired the panel of judges which made the awards, in a rousing speech called for ‘an uprising against what has happened to legal aid’ and said that the ‘political and legal fight against the legal aid cuts must continue’.

The award for outstanding achievement was made to the solicitor Imran Khan, who was described as a lawyer who once he has run out of all the legal options demands that the law is changed so that justice is served. It was fitting that his most high profile client, Doreen Lawrence, received a special 10th anniversary award. The co-chair of LAPG, Jenny Beck, who presented this award said that Doreen Lawrence, who campaigned for 19 years to bring her son’s killers to justice, was someone ‘who fought for justice not because it was her job, but due to tragic circumstance’ and that she was ‘an inspiration to everyone who cares about justice’.

The July edition of Legal Action will have full coverage of awards. Legal Action Group is the media partner of the awards.

PIC Robert Aberman