Mediation option for legal disputes

Lawyers will be obliged to advise their clients to consider mediation to resolve legal disputes, under new legislation outlined by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald yesterday.

The Mediation Bill, being drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, requires solicitors and barristers to advise parties to disputes to consider utilising mediation as a means of resolving them.

Where court proceedings are launched, it will also oblige parties to proceedings to confirm to the court that they have been advised of this process and have considered using mediation as a means of resolving the dispute.

“The purpose of the bill is to promote mediation as a viable, effective and efficient alternative to court proceedings thereby reducing legal costs, speeding up the resolution of disputes and relieving the stress involved in court proceedings,” said Ms Fitzgerald.

One of the country’s leading mediators yesterday gave a broad welcome to the bill but said she feels it could have gone further by involving more comprehensively other professionals like accountants and medical practitioners.

“It is wonderful to see coming into law a regime that deals with all the aspects of mediation and links the necessity of giving advice to what happens in court,” said solicitor Patricia Mallon, a partner with Eoin Daly Mallon in Cork.

“It gives people a more credible option and means that mediation can operate as a default mechanism, particularly in family law disputes, rather than the current system where the adversarial models is the default.”

However, Ms Mallon, a collaborative law practitioner and specialist in family law, said it should allow for the involvement of more disciplines.

“I do a lot of co-mediations, working with psychotherapists and other disciplines. All conflict is a ball of legal, financial and emotional issues. If you address one issue without the other two, it can lengthen the process and is not as efficient as it could be.”

The bill is expected become law before next year’s general election, although Ms Fitzgerald acknowledged that there was no exact timetable for that to happen.

“While it is not possible to give a specific date for publication of the bill at this stage, I intend to proceed quickly with enactment of the bill following its publication later this year,” she said.

Under the new law, parties in family law cases will be required to attend an information session on mediation.

Where court proceedings have commenced, a judge will also be allowed to invite the parties to consider mediation and suspend the case to facilitate the mediation process.

The minister made the announcement as she launched the 2014 report of the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) which shows that queries about housing rights increased by 82% last year compared with 2013

This increase, the sharpest on any legal issue dealt with by Flac, followed an 83% increase in calls on housing between 2012 and 2013.

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