Following a recent visit to Bristol in late 2012, the Law Society President John Wotton remarked on the excellence of Bristol as a legal centre, describing it as “a very forward-looking, innovative and competitive legal market”. (Bristol Law Society news). If he had visited more recently, he might have commented on other specific legal developments – no, not the jury-led acquittal of the Colston Four (though that dispute would have been an interesting one to mediate!) but the new direction to mediate that is being issued out of the Bristol Courts in Multi-track cases deemed suitable. It reads:
“The claim is stayed until  months from date of issue of order to enable mediation to take place.
Any party may apply to extend the stay to enable completion of the mediation provided such application is made no later than 7 days before expiry of the current stay.”
How has this arisen?
Does mediation save time and money?
Most experienced mediators can tell you stories of disputes which seemed intractable, but which have settled through mediation. However, there is still a surprising lack of qualitative and quantitative evidence of the real impact mediation has on parties and their advisers not to mention the significant savings of costs for the parties and the court system.
What is particularly telling is that the court system currently has no means of monitoring the impact of mediation on their caseload. If a case settles prior to trial the court may be asked to seal a Tomlin Order, but the court staff have no means of knowing whether the settlement was achieved through mediation or by other means.
For more than a year, leading members of the Association of South West Mediators (ASWM) have been working with the Ministry of Justice and the Bristol Courts to explore ways of collecting evidence which might help to shed light on this issue. As a result, the MOJ has designed a research project which encourages parties and their solicitors to give feedback on how the mediation process has worked for them in referrals made through ASWM.
If you have a case where you are considering mediation and want to take part in the research, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
There is ongoing debate about whether mediation should be made compulsory in a higher proportion of cases. The recent CJC report concluded that such a system would not be unlawful but there still appears to be a lack of confidence is some judicial quarters that mediation can deliver the justice the parties are seeking.
The hope is that if those in a position to influence the use of mediation can see the tangible benefits that the mediators see, then parties, lawyers and even judges will feel more confident in taking part.