The Mediation Act came into effect in Ireland on the 1st of January 2018. The Act aims to legislate for and encourage the use of mediation as an alternative method of dispute resolution. While mediation has been used in Ireland for some time the introduction of the Act now provides a statutory framework for the process.
Mediation is a process whereby an impartial meditator assists parties in attempting to reach a mutually acceptable agreement to resolve their dispute.
The Act calls for solicitors to advise their clients to consider mediation as method of resolving disputes prior to the issuing of legal proceeding. Solicitors must provide information to their clients relating to the services available and as to the various advantages and benefits of participating in the mediation process.
It is important to note that participation in mediation is entirely voluntary and parties can withdraw from the process at any time if they so choose.
The Act states that all records and notes relating to the mediation shall be confidential.
Even after the institution of proceedings mediation can be considered and the Act allows for a court to invite parties to consider mediation, either of its own motion or at the request of one of the parties. The Act allows for the adjournment of proceedings to facilitate the mediation process. While the court cannot order that mediation take place, the court may take an unreasonable refusal to consider or attend at mediation into account when making a costs award in the legal proceedings.
The mediation settlement acts as a contract between the parties unless the parties have expressly stated that it will have no legal force until it is incorporated into a legal contract.
The costs of the mediation must be shared equally between the parties unless otherwise agreed between the parties or otherwise ordered by the court. The fees and costs of mediation must be reasonable and proportionate to the importance and complexity of the issues at stake and the amount of work carried out by the mediator.
In appropriate cases mediation can be a quicker and therefore more cost effective method of dispute resolution. The procedure may be more dynamic and the parties may have more input into and control over the outcome than in traditional legal proceedings.