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Mediation saves time, money

September 13, 2015

Satisfied customer

Satisfied customer:  Business owner Eva Chiu says mediation helped her solve a dispute with a client swiftly and economically.

Third party

Third party:  Family mediator Amarantha Yip says mediation can minimise the negative impact a divorce can have on children.

In the know

In the know:  Judiciary Senior Mediation Affairs Officer April Lam invites people to attend free information sessions to learn more about the process.

Knowledge repository

Knowledge repository:  The Mediation Information Office provides videos and materials to educate people about mediation's advantages.

Those who find themselves in disputes with neighbours or business partners, or couples going through divorce, usually head straight into litigation. To help ease the courts' caseloads - and save time, money and parties' grief - the Government has been promoting mediation.

 

It is a voluntary process in which a trained and impartial third person, the mediator, helps the parties hash out their grievances to reach an amicable settlement.

 

If a case is deemed suitable for mediation, the court will encourage the parties to attend an information session at the Judiciary's Mediation Information Office at the High Court Building in Admiralty, to determine whether they are willing to give the negotiation channel a try.

 

If they agree to it, each party has a chance to present their case and hear what the other side has to say. The mediator's job is not to make a decision for them, but to help explore the strengths and weaknesses of their own cases and identify possible solutions.

 

The mediator does not decide who is right or wrong and has no authority to impose a settlement on the parties. The decision-making power rests in their hands.

 

There are currently more than 2,000 accredited mediators in Hong Kong. Amarantha Yip is one of them. A social worker by profession, she specialises in family mediation.

 

Mediating emotions

Family mediators can help divorcing couples communicate effectively and discuss issues including child custody, or division of finances and assets in a confidential and less formal environment. Whatever is said in mediation cannot be used in a subsequent court hearing.

 

"Issues include childcare arrangements, how to divide up property or how to handle pets or gifts from parents, and we will come to an agreement that they can accept," Ms Yip said.

 

She added that mediation can help minimise the negative impact a divorce can have on children, and mediators must manage people's emotions as well as the dispute itself.

 

"There are a lot of emotions involved too, so we need to know how to settle emotions in a way that could facilitate mediation."

 

Satisfied customer

Mediation services are finding favour in the commercial sector, also.

 

Eva Chiu is the Managing Director of a small business which designs and produces umbrellas. Last year, her company received an order to produce 5,000 umbrellas. But when her firm was ready to deliver the products, the client indicated it was not satisfied with the type of finish used on the umbrellas and refused to accept the order. 

 

"The client would not compromise. What's more, they wanted compensation for any losses arising from late delivery and the cost of potential litigation. I was feeling helpless when a friend told me about mediation as a means to resolve a commercial dispute."

 

After only a few hours of talks, Ms Chiu and her client signed a mutually acceptable agreement, an outcome that made good business sense.

 

"Using mediation to solve a dispute not only saves money, but is efficient. Long term co-operation with clients is important for business. I hope to maintain a good relationship with clients so that they will order new products from us in the future."

 

Speedy settlement

The Judiciary opened the Mediation Information Office in 2010, to help people understand how mediation can help end disputes.

 

"Our major role is educator, since educating the parties about the nature and advantages of mediation increases their confidence to try it, and the more they understand it, the higher their motivation, which leads to a higher success rate," Judiciary Senior Mediation Affairs Officer April Lam said.

 

Mediation is less expensive than a typical lawsuit. Employing a mediator costs less than hiring a lawyer and, combined with a quicker turnaround, the parties end up paying less money over a shorter period of time.

 

"In 2014, the average cost per case with full agreement was $18,400 and don't forget that's shared by both parties, which is around $9,000 each. So compared to litigation, it's much lower, also the average time it took to reach a settlement in 2014 was about five hours," Ms Lam noted.

 

Judiciary figures also show the settlement rate at the Court of First Instance is steadily rising.

 

In 2012, 46% of mediated cases resulted in agreements. That increased to 57% the following year and 65% in 2014.



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