by Katy Li
In March 2023, I attended the third UK Mediation Clinic Conference at the University of Strathclyde. In my Scots Law CLLB degree, I have encountered mediation in the Legal Methods module, and during workshops as a part the clinical degree.
During my initial law clinic training, we were taught to produce client statements by sifting through the legally non-relevant information from client interviews. In practice, particularly when dealing with vulnerable clients, it often takes time for them to get their stories out. I do not enjoy hearing the voice inside my head going: ‘When will you get to the relevant part?’ as I interview someone who is struggling to communicate their thoughts.
The tug between fully listening and understanding the client on a person-to-person level, and filtering out the information they give me as legally relevant or non-relevant on the spot has caused some tension in me. In mediation, the emphasis on listening to both parties and helping them to put their stories across seem to provide a space where creative solutions can be found. People’s emotions, what they really desire, and how they want to be treated, take on more significance in mediation than in traditional solicitor–client relationships.
Mediation is particularly suitable for situations where parties wish to maintain a relationship in the future. On the other hand, where there is a power imbalance between the parties, mediation may not be appropriate. I took this impression with me when I attended a restorative justice seminar on ‘How can Active Victim Participation be Achieved?’ by Prof Tim Chapman in June 2023. Restorative justice is about bringing the perpetrator and victim together for the benefit of both. The seminar focused on sexual abuse cases. Examples of the victims’ bravery and strength to participate in the sessions and to hold perpetrators responsible were remarkable. It also made me angry for the institutional failures that allowed children to be abused by people in positions of authority.
Prof Chapman mentioned that some victims are ‘vulnerable but strong’, meaning that some are willing to expose themselves to past trauma (past in the sense that the event happened in the past, but the effects of which are still very much present) at the price of being triggered and emotionally exposed as a part of their healing journey. Whilst some practitioners might say: ‘Meeting the perpetrator at the place of abuse will re-traumatise you, the risk is too great’, if the victim has requested this, and if it is appropriate, it takes a brave practitioner to assist the victim to go where they need to go, even to those dark and difficult places.
It is not lost on me that to hold meetings between parties with such complicated history requires immense skill, time and planning to safely facilitate, and resources are limited; however, where this is possible, the potential for healing is also great.
Being fully present and patient are throughlines in mediation and restorative justice. As a student advisor, it reminds me that how we deliver advice is just as important as the advice we give.
More details of the conference can be found here: https://www.strath.ac.uk/media/1newwebsite/departmentsubject/law/Mediation_Matters_-_Issue_3_-_April_2023.pdf