Alun Thomas: Fix it, don’t fight it – the power of mediation
The week, in addition to being the second week of COP26, is also International Mediation Awareness Week, and events across the world are taking place in an effort to raise awareness of the power of mediation to resolve conflict.
That power is something not lost on those working on the fringes of the COP26 conference. A group of mediators from all over the UK have been brought together under the ‘Keeping Our Cool’ banner to provide on the ground informal mediation services to all those involved in expressing the protests from all sides which have gathered to voice what are, at times, opposing opinions.
The fact that such a service has been proposed by a collaboration of organisations led by the Centre for Good Relations, including a Place For Hope and Scottish Mediation, is a sign that more people are recognising that mediation can be a helpful part of the arrangements for a better civic Scotland.
In the same way, many lawyers are recognising that clients who seek help with their problems want their lawyers to fix it, rather than to fight it, particularly when the working or business relationship is something that parties would far rather restore than throw away. Clients appreciate that getting things sorted quickly and by agreement can be much less expensive in terms of financial and emotional costs than sitting in a queue waiting to battle out a court case over months and sometimes years.
In these days of remote working, many mediations can now take place online without the cost and hassle of arranging all-day meetings. What’s more, the flexibility of an approach afforded by the way that many of us are now able to work through a screen has allowed some parties to overcome the fear of meeting the people they see as their opponents face-to-face. This can reduce the trauma in fronting up to the issues which need to be discussed.
For those who are proud to espouse this approach, Scottish Mediation has launched its Mediation Charter under which charter partners like the Scottish Land Commission, Relationships Scotland, Renfrewshire Council, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the University of St Andrews have all signed up to a simple five-step plan to promote mediation to resolve differences when they arise.
Inside law firm Anderson Strathern, experience of mediation has helped form a group of young mediators all keen to use their skills to help clients and others to resolve their disputes efficiently, by talking and, more importantly, listening respectfully to those with whom they fall into disagreement. The Anderson Strathern Mediation Group includes lawyers from all parts of the firm – property, rural, litigation and employment law – recognising that this is about helping people to resolve things as quickly as possible and shouldn’t be left until the door of the courtroom is in sight.
It must be that statesmen such as Churchill and Macmillan had it right when they said, respectively, “meeting Jaw to Jaw is better than War” and “Jaw-jaw is better than war-war”. It can only be hoped that those currently embroiled in the discussions inside Glasgow’s COP26 take heed.
Alun Thomas is a partner at Anderson Strathern and chairman of Scottish Mediation. This article first appeared in The Scotsman.