Civil Mediation Council

CMC 2016 Conference Sketch

20th May 2016

On the 11th May 2016, the CMC welcomed members and those interested in mediation to its 10th Annual Conference – held, paradoxically perhaps, in the former premises of the TUC.  Upon arrival delegates were given a warm welcome, due in part to the air-conditioning not working because of inconsiderate delegates continually opening the door to get into the building.

The first two sessions – Sir Alan’s Keynote Address and Bill Wood’s ‘What’s in Store’ - seemed dominated by that thorny issue of Regulation.  Was the CMC to be reconstituted, we wondered, as OfMed?  Was Sir Alan to be the CMC’s first Chief Inspector of Her Majesty’s Panels?  Not at all!  The Government, said Sir Alan, expected the CMC to maintain and indeed raise standards: if we were to become a professional body then the CMC was best placed to apply ‘light touch’ regulation, overseeing discipline and codes of conduct.

Bill Wood began by describing the buildings he sees - from Nat West Bank to Paul’s Patisserie - as he gazes out from the IDRC windows during his mediations.  Was he subtly revealing his various approaches to mediation, ranging from evaluative (Nat West Bank) to facilitative (Paul’s Patisserie)? In any event, he followed this with a highly informative trot through the workings of government - about the CJC and the MOJ, and how the CJC was working with the MOJ on FDR’s and MIAM’s, and how BIS was interacting with the MOJ on the EU – and how the CMC could unravel all these anachronisms – sorry acronyms.   There was nevertheless a serious concern about the profession being strangled by accreditation, with an insight into the fact that compulsion and regulation were definitely on the horizon.

Geoff Sharp gave us all a stunning account of the way in which mediation had been applied so helpfully in the aftermath of the earthquake that hit Christchurch New Zealand in 2011.  Did the Earth move for us?  It certainly did, as Geoff gave us a series of poignant vignettes from the horrific stories that emerged from that crisis. Yet mediation was used extensively throughout the several years that followed, with disputes proliferating between property owners and insurers, and settlements somehow helping to mitigate the dreadfulness of the situation.  Geoff was proud, he said, of what mediation was doing in New Zealand. Thank you, Geoff for a very stirring presentation!

The long awaited (2 years) 7th CEDR Audit surprisingly brought few surprises (plus ça change…?). This helpful survey revealed that there was an increase in the number of women involved in mediation and a decrease in the number of lawyers.  Is mediation becoming more touchy-feely, appealing to our feminine sides?  Surely not!   CEDR also reported a comparatively small increase - only 5% - in the number of mediations carried out by CEDR mediators between 2014 and 2016.  Does that mean that more non-CEDR mediators are getting in on the act?  Surely not!

Just in case we were not clear that Bill Marsh’s session ‘How Was It For You’ was intended to resemble a fire-side chat, the three large screens in the auditorium were filled with a huge image of a blazing log fire.  No fear of too much hot air, then.   The session was a thoroughly stimulating series of smoothly and skillfully conducted interviews by Bill of two prominent users of mediation (Julian McGuiggan and Rebecca Clark) and Stephen Ruttle QC, possibly one of the most experienced mediators in the room.  Julian and Rebecca gave us valuable insights into their expectations of a mediator – more innovation, less passivity, more subject-matter expertise – while Stephen drew on his commercial as well as community mediation expertise to reveal his prime objective: to get people to talk to each other. 

The parallel workshops provided welcome variety, and with the four workshops repeated in the afternoon, it provided opportunity to attend two out of the four during the day.

-           The Knotty Problems:  To those who did not attend, this workshop may have sounded like a series of old chestnuts presented by a group of seasoned chestnuts to a room full of fresh young chestnuts?  Not at all.   Some of the more difficult problems encountered by mediators were efficiently highlighted through the Thespian hamming of the presenters, precipitating lively debate and discussion from a very wise audience.  Oscar nominations are now closed.

-           Workplace and Employment Mediation:  This interactive workshop explored the issue of different styles of mediation appropriate for workplace as opposed to employment mediation. What a difference it makes for lawyers not to be present!  Delegates were introduced to the concept of Transformative Mediation – taking control away from the lawyers and giving it back to the parties: ‘try being less directive and experience the transformation’! 

-           Dispute Avoidance:  Another mediation dynasty, David and Oliver Richbell, presented a thought-provoking session on ‘nipping conflict in the bud’.  Where the benefit of hindsight is not available in advance, the question was:  when is it right to speak up and when best to wait? Delegates were given some useful tips on dealing with difficult conversations at an early stage, and how to speak and listen effectively.  Handy for inter-generational conflicts, David?

-           How to make an impact:  Esther Stanhope is an Impact Coach, and in this workshop, she gently challenged our belief in ourselves, and with great humour encouraged us, a little less gently, to be our-best-selves and to be able to convey that to others. This was a taster session, inspiring and enjoyable,  leaving many wanting more.

Colin Manning, the CMC’s modern day impresario, was rightly and properly thanked for his role as designer, promoter, manager and director of the conference.  He had successfully navigated the CMC Board towards the event, as well as gently but efficiently ushering us to our various rooms throughout the day of the event, commendably ensuring that the programme ended on time.

Paul Randolph

May 2016