MEDIATION Pro Bono Mediation Information Service making a difference in the Magistrates Court MARGARET CASTLES, SOLICITOR AND MEDIATOR, ADELAIDE LAW SCHOOL DIRECTOR OF CLINICAL LEGAL EDUCATION, AND RUTH BEACH, BARRISTER AND SOLICITOR, MEDIATOR At the Magistrates Court Legal Advice Service 1 students regularly advise clients to consider mediation as an alternative to litigation, and are as regularly asked “What’s that?”. Lawyers, judges and law students are often keen advocates of mediation – anything to avoid the uncertainty, distress, cost and disappointment of litigation. Mediation offers parties the chance to fully discuss and explore their dispute, with each other, face to face, with the guidance of a neutral third party. Lawyers often recommend mediation to their clients, but parties representing themselves, especially in the minor civil jurisdiction, often have no idea that they can even talk to the other side, let alone sit down and try to work out the dispute. With 24 years’ experience in litigation and dispute resolution, Adelaide lawyer and mediator Ruth Beach decided to address this gap in understanding at a grass roots level – by providing people with information and advice about how mediation works, at the very moment when people are receptive and interested – when they go to court for the first directions hearing in a minor civil claim. Two years ago, with the support of Deputy Chief Magistrate Dr Andrew Cannon, Ruth set up the Mediation Information Service 2 . A dozen qualified mediators volunteer to take turns attending the general civil list in the Magistrates Court each Monday and Tuesday to advise and inform parties of options other than going to trial. Sometimes they help people towards an agreement and sometimes if time permits they can offer a short mediation session. All of this is done pro bono, with mediators offering their time and expertise at no charge. Being available in court means that Magistrates or court staff can direct people who want to try to 20 THE BULLETIN April 2018 sort out their dispute to the mediator on the spot. “The Magistrates Court has actively encouraged ADR including mediation and court expert appraisal since it established its own rules in 1992. This service helps parties understand that leaving their dispute to someone else to decide for them is often not the best option.” – DCM, Dr Andrew Cannon Mediation is cheaper, quicker, more humanistic, and importantly, it offers parties the chance to agitate issues that no court will be interested in and which are often the real issues in dispute. Litigants are often good problem solvers, and with the assistance of a mediator, outcomes are usually better, quicker, and more satisfactory for both parties. Cases often have underlying issues, and if these can be discussed in mediation, the parties will often settle. The Mediation Information Service helps people to understand the limits of litigation, and the possibility of sorting the case out themselves. The Magistrates Court Legal Advice Service, which operates on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the Court, took over the administration and management of this service in 2017. Students have prepared handouts to parties about mediation, they organise the rosters and communicate with mediators and the Court. Each Monday and Tuesday students attend with the mediator, and can assist with documents, writing up agreements, etc. Law students, Milly Livingstone and Rachel Phillips, devised all of the documentation and processes in early 2017. Law student Amanda Hughes took over the running of this program for second semester, and continues to do an outstanding job. As these students graduate and move into the next stage of their careers, others will take over the management of the Service. “MCLAS was keen to take on the administration of this service. Already situated in the Magistrates Court to assist clients with case preparation, legal advice, and drafting support, we see daily the benefit for clients being able to sit down and try to work out a solution together. Plus it provides a unique learning experience for our students, who can experience first hand the process and challenges of mediation with an experienced professional.” – Margaret Castles, Director, Clinical Legal Education Program The Magistrates Court already operates a busy mediation service, with mediations offered at no cost for minor civil and low cost general claims. Free Mediation is also available in minor civil cases before proceedings are issued. This pro bono initiative supplements those existing services to provide even greater opportunities for parties to learn about mediation and sort out their disputes. So far, the service has been busy, and is making a real difference. Magistrates are very positive about the service, and it’s great to see a grass roots initiative like this have an impact in the Courts in resolving disputes before trial. Not to mention the number of people who will go away with a better understanding of what mediation is, and how to access it. “I think it is a privilege to be able to make a pro bono contribution so that people don’t have to wait for a court outcome. Providing access to processes and facilitators through the MIS assists people to become their own decision makers, which is an important part of any dispute.” – Bev Clarke, solicitor and mediator, who has been involved in MIS from the start
MEDIATION Legal advice clinic students Steven Ellis (front) and Evangelos Toskas Thanks go to all involved in quietly setting up and running the service and getting on with the job. Solicitors and mediators who are currently involved in this service include Bev Clarke, Bevan Bates, Bronwyn Adams, Bronwyn Gallacher, Matthew Young, Penny McCann, Ruth Beach, Margaret Castles, Jane McGrath, Kerri Flanagan and Erica Panagakos. If you are interested in joining in this initiative, or have other inquiries please contact: Margaret.castles@adelaide. edu.au or Ruth@ruthbeach.com.au. Information about the Service, and about the availability of mediation in the Magistrates Court generally, can be found at the MCLAS website: https://law.adelaide.edu.au/free-legalclinics/magistrates-court-legal-advice and the CAA website http://www. courts.sa.gov.au/ RepresentYourself/ CivilClaims/Pages/Mediation.aspx B Mashal Masood (left), Katherine Nowakowski and Maddison Briggs discuss a file Endnotes 1 MCLAS is a free legal advice service operated by Adelaide Law School as part of the Clinical Legal Education program. Students supervised by a solicitor provide legal advice and support to litigants in the minor civil claims jurisdiction. 2 This service commenced following a couple years of trials utilising other options, ultimately settling on the current Service. Share our belief that caring for people at the end of their lives is an honour and a privilege. Be inspired – donate today Visit marypotter.org.au or call Cathy Murphy on 08 8239 0119 to find out more.