Music to my ears 3: Address by Wayne Martin AC, Chief Justice Supreme Court of Western Australia, Perth 6 March 2018

Mediation and court: diagrammatically distinct… experientially …?

This post is the third in a series of three:  ‘Music to my ears 1- 3’. It was prompted by a paper presented by  the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia, Hon Wayne Martin AC,  in March 2018.

Music to my ears 1‘ raises the possibility that there are some similarities in both the scope and the constraints of court procedure and mediation processes .

Music to my ears 2 explores the possibility of some similarities by transposing ‘court’ to ‘mediation’ to establish the extent to which the statements originally referring to court procedure can be read as broadly describing mediation processes.

This post, ‘Music to my ears 3’, builds on apparent similarities of the scope and constraints of court procedure and mediation processes by translating the comments of the Chief Justice into the concepts and then into the language of mediation to begin to explore the notion that it may be the language of each of the processes that contributes to them being perceived by many to be antithetical.

If that can be done meaningfully then I suggest that from participants’ perspectives, perhaps it is in part the language used by each that distinguishes one from the other. This possibility raises thoughts of participants receiving explanations of the two processes in terms of what they have in common and how they are distinct rather than the current situation of one process being seen to be the antithesis of the other; one process and its proponents being seen to be undermining the process and proponents of the other.

  • Chief Justice re Court

It is important to remember that the issues of fact resolved by a court are only those which the parties choose to present, and that they must be resolved on the basis of the evidence presented by the parties. p. 8 under the heading ‘The Constraints upon Adjudicated Outcomes’

Chief Justice re Court transposed to Mediation concepts and language

At mediation it is significant that the information is provided by participants and is the information that participants individually and collectively choose to present. Typically it is presented throughout the stages of the ‘top triangle’, where in the exploration stage everything that may become relevant to reaching resolution is aired in an environment of ‘all information is valid… maybe differently valid’. It is that information that is referred to when, during the stages of the second triangle, the mediator facilitates participants’ creation of options, followed by reality testing, filtering and then reaching agreement, as appropriate.

  • Chief Justice re Court

In the adversarial system there is no practical capacity for a court to conduct its own investigations to establish the truth, nor is there any obligation upon the court to arrive at some notion of absolute or independent truth.

Chief Justice re Court transposed to Mediation concepts and language

At mediation the notion of truth is often conceptualised by participants as significantly similar recollections which can cause and can result from ‘workable truths’, that is, participants’ perceptions of reciprocated authenticity underpinned by acceptance (and possible disagreement) of  others’ perspectives.  These ‘workable truths’ appears to be present in a tenuous way throughout mediation for many participants.

‘Workable truths’ are person and therefore mediation specific. Mediation is future focused: the question of truth in mediation is a question of ‘workable truths’ projected to unknown and dynamic circumstances. In mediation, truth often refers to a commitment to future honesty, predicated on privacy.

  • Chief Justice re Court

Australian courts are not commissions of enquiry and can only view the facts through a prism of the evidence presented by the parties, which may or may not give a true view.

Chief Justice re Court transposed to Mediation concepts and language

Mediations are private and consider only participants’ and constituents’ future focused interests, all of which, because they are developed from the past and are dynamic in the present, have a significant hypothetical element to them.

  • Chief Justice re Court

Similarly, courts are generally constrained to adjudicate only upon the legal issues presented by the parties and have very little capacity to take the law in a direction not proposed by at least one party.

Chief Justice re Court transposed to Mediation concepts and language

At mediation the issues are those identified by the mediator and agreed by the participants. Typically the agreed issues form an agenda, each item of which is future focused, neutral and mutual. Agenda items can relate to any and all domains of participants’ decision-making: legal, moral, interpersonal, practical etc

  • Chief Justice re Court

The constraints imposed upon a court by the way in which the parties choose to present their case somewhat diminish the normative value of public adjudication.

Chief Justice re Court transposed to Mediation concepts and language

The outcomes of most mediations almost always remain private outcomes which results in little or no data being available for reporting or analysis. With no comprehensive sociological and statistical data available, participants often describe their mediation experience in a way that I shall summarise as ‘pioneering’. Any learning from other pioneers is due to word-of-mouth. Society remains unaware.

  • Chief Justice re Court

We should remember that the incentive of each party is to win, not to establish the truth or to develop legal principles.

Chief Justice re Court transposed to Mediation concepts and language

Mediation participants are initially motivated by a constellation of motives. During the mediation their motives coalesce into reaching a durable, practical, private agreement and  in many situations, also to restoring and maintaining at least cordial relationships. Principles are far from the focus and ‘the truth’ (much of it inconvenient) has been relegated to the periphery.

  • Points for further pondering

Ho: From an objective conceptualisation of participants’ perspectives of their experiences, described in both the terminology of the court and the terminology of mediation, the procedures of the court and the processes of mediation are significantly similar.

H1: From an objective conceptualisation of participants’ perspectives of their experiences, described in both the terminology of the court and the terminology of mediation, the procedures of the court and the processes of mediation are significantly distinct.

It would be interesting to be able to measure, with validity and reliability, the experience of court and of mediation and of other forms of dispute resolution from the perspective of participants, constituents and society.



Mediation: who is at the table?

Language intrigues me. Recently my intrigue morphed into embarrassed concern that many times daily I (and I’m in good company) have been inadvertently undermining one of the fundamental tenets of mediation.


My thanks to Catalyst Learning & Development for use of their cartoon.

This is how I see it.

  • Would you agree that mediation is an opportunity for people to participate in decision-making about issues that affect them?
  • Would you agree that mediation is a process that is consciously person-centred, relationship-oriented and participatory?
  • Would you agree that legal entities are represented in mediation by people?
  • Would you agree that people are fundamental to and the raison d’être of mediation?
  • Do you use the term ‘party’ to describe disputants?

My concern is that ‘party’ objectifies people. A ‘party’ is one dimensional: it has only a legal dimension and correspondingly limited choice in a dispute: little more than capitulate or be ‘capitulated’.

I now mediate with ‘participants’. A ‘participant’ has all the complexity of humanity and as I see it, it’s that complexity that creates a multitude of choice of agreements reached.

Choosing mediation

Each person is unique; each mediation is different from each other mediation.  Even so, I start every mediation by meeting with each person separately and at that meeting I explain the essence of mediation.

This is one of the diagrams that I use.

mediationis 140123 logo title background copyright

The first line explains what mediation is and the second line explains what mediation is not.  What I raise is that + differs on every dimension from v and that resolving agreed issues is an experience incomparable with the experience of accepting a pronouncement on a set of issues described by the law.

Mediation roles

Mediation Roles

Above, I’ve provided a link to a handout I’ve developed which provides a brief overview of roles in mediation.  I find it useful when I explain mediation to participants.  Other descriptions that I recommend are on the NADRAC [National ADR Advisory Council] site and the MSB [Mediator Standards Board] site.  I developed my description from the NADRAC one in particular.

The handout is a brief overview of roles in mediation.  In summary, the role of participants is to be responsible for the content of the mediation. They decide on the ‘what’ of their mediation.  Participants then take responsibility for their substantive decisions.  In some situations, the participants might choose to consult the mediator regarding the content.  The mediator may then decide to provide generic information; not advice.

The mediator is responsible for the process of the mediation, the ‘how’ of mediation.  The mediator might tentatively consult participants regarding the process in a way which maintains their even handedness.  They then take responsibility for their procedural decisions.

Margaret’s Mediation Maxim

mediation diagram halsmith dispute resolution

I developed this diagram after reflecting on the essence of what works in mediation.  I’ve found that in this case, what works for one works for all.  When participants, support people, lawyers and the mediator all listen generously they are all inclined to think creatively, speak moderately and decide wisely, leading to satisfactory conclusions.