An evaluation of the sustainability of agreements reached through mediations conducted by the dispute resolution centres of the Department of Justice and Attorney General, Queensland between 1999 to 2003

Brennan, Teresa (2010) An evaluation of the sustainability of agreements reached through mediations conducted by the dispute resolution centres of the Department of Justice and Attorney General, Queensland between 1999 to 2003. Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


In 1990 the Dispute Resolution Centres Act, 1990 (Qld) (the Act) was passed by the Queensland Parliament. In the second reading speech for the Dispute Resolution Centres Bill on May 1990 the Hon Dean Wells stated that the proposed legislation would make mediation services available “in a non-coercive, voluntary forum where, with the help of trained mediators, the disputants will be assisted towards their own solutions to their disputes, thereby ensuring that the result is acceptable to the parties” (Hansard, 1990, 1718). It was recognised at that time that a method for resolving disputes was necessary for which “the conventional court system is not always equipped to provide lasting resolution” (Hansard, 1990, 1717). In particular, the lasting resolution of “disputes between people in continuing relationships” was seen as made possible through the new legislation; for example, “domestic disputes, disputes between employees, and neighbourhood disputes relating to such issues as overhanging tree branches, dividing fences, barking dogs, smoke, noise and other nuisances are occurring continually in the community” (Hansard, 1990, 1717). The key features of the proposed form of mediation in the Act were articulated as follows: “attendance of both parties at mediation sessions is voluntary; a party may withdraw at any time; mediation sessions will be conducted with as little formality and technicality as possible; the rules of evidence will not apply; any agreement reached is not enforceable in any court; although it could be made so if the parties chose to proceed that way; and the provisions of the Act do not affect any rights or remedies that a party to a dispute has apart from the Act” (Hansard, 1990, 1718). Since the introduction of the Act, the Alternative Dispute Resolution Branch of the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney General has offered mediation services through, first the Community Justice Program (CJP), and then the Dispute Resolution Centres (DRCs) for a range of family, neighbourhood, workplace and community disputes. These services have mirrored those available through similar government agencies in other states such as the Community Justice Centres of NSW and the Victorian Dispute Resolution Centres. Since 1990, mediation has become one of the fastest growing forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Sourdin has commented that "In addition to the growth in court-based and community-based dispute resolution schemes, ADR has been institutionalised and has grown within Australia and overseas” (2005, 14). In Australia, in particular, the development of ADR service provision “has been assisted by the creation and growth of professional organisations such as the Leading Edge Alternative Dispute Resolvers (LEADR), the Australian Commercial Dispute Centres (ACDC), Australian Disputes Resolution Association (ADRA), Conflict Resolution Network, and the Institute of Arbitrators and Mediators Australia (IAMA)” (Sourdin, 2005, 14). The increased emphasis on the use of ADR within education contexts (particularly secondary and tertiary contexts) has “also led to an increasing acceptance and understanding of (ADR) processes” (Sourdin, 2005, 14). Proponents of the mediation process, in particular, argue that much of its success derives from the inherent flexibility and creativity of the agreements reached through the mediation process and that it is a relatively low cost option in many cases (Menkel-Meadow, 1997, 417). It is also accepted that one of the main reasons for the success of mediation can be attributed to the high level of participation by the parties involved and thus creating a sense of ownership of, and commitment to, the terms of the agreement (Boulle, 2005, 65). These characteristics are associated with some of the core values of mediation, particularly as practised in community-based models as found at the DRCs. These core values include voluntary participation, party self-determination and party empowerment (Boulle, 2005, 65). For this reason mediation is argued as being an effective approach to resolving disputes, that creates a lasting resolution of the issues. Evaluation of the mediation process, particularly in the context of the growth of ADR, has been an important aspect of the development of the process (Sourdin, 2008). Writing in 2005 for example, Boulle, states that “although there is a constant refrain for more research into mediation practice, there has been a not insignificant amount of mediation measurement, both in Australia and overseas” (Boulle, 2005, 575). The positive claims of mediation have been supported to a significant degree by evaluations of the efficiency and effectiveness of the process. A common indicator of the effectiveness of mediation is the settlement rate achieved. High settlement rates for mediated disputes have been found for Australia (Altobelli, 2003) and internationally (Alexander, 2003). Boulle notes that mediation agreement rates claimed by service providers range from 55% to 92% (Boulle, 2005, 590). The annual reports for the Alternative Dispute Resolution Branch of the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General considered prior to the commencement of this study indicated generally achievement of an approximate settlement figure of 86% by the Queensland Dispute Resolution Centres. More recently, the 2008-2009 annual report states that of the 2291 civil dispute mediated in 2007-2008, 86% reached an agreement. Further, of the 2693 civil disputes mediated in 2008-2009, 73% reached an agreement. These results are noted in the report as indicating “the effectiveness of mediation in resolving disputes” and as reflecting “the high level of agreement achieved for voluntary mediations” (Annual Report, 2008-2009, online). Whilst the settlement rates for the DRCs are strong, parties are rarely contacted for long term follow-up to assess whether agreements reached during mediation lasted to the satisfaction of each party. It has certainly been the case that the Dispute Resolution Centres of Queensland have not been resourced to conduct long-term follow-up assessments of mediation agreements. As Wade notes, "it is very difficult to compare "success" rates” and whilst “politicians want the comparison studies (they) usually do not want the delay and expense of accurate studies" (1998, 114). To date, therefore, it is fair to say that the efficiency of the mediation process has been evaluated but not necessarily its effectiveness. Rather, the practice at the Queensland DRCs has been to evaluate the quality of mediation service provision and of the practice of the mediation process. This has occurred, for example, through follow-up surveys of parties' satisfaction rates with the mediation service. In most other respects it is fair to say that the Centres have relied on the high settlement rates of the mediation process as a sign of the effectiveness of mediation (Annual Reports 1991 - 2010). Research of the mediation literature conducted for the purpose of this thesis has also indicated that there is little evaluative literature that provides an in-depth analysis and assessment of the longevity of mediated agreements. Instead evaluative studies of mediation tend to assess how mediation is conducted, or compare mediation with other conflict resolution options, or assess the agreement rate of mediations, including parties' levels of satisfaction with the service provision of the dispute resolution service provider (Boulle, 2005, Chapter 16).

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ID Code: 47162
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Masters by Research)
Supervisor: Field, Rachael
Keywords: dispute resolution, Department of Justice and Attorney General
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Current > Schools > School of Justice
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 23 Nov 2011 00:20
Last Modified: 23 Nov 2011 00:20

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