Young Mediators’ Blog December 2018 – Heloise Murdoch
Heloise Murdoch, Coordinator of the Edinburgh Sheriff Court Mediation Service, talks to Young Mediators about what the Service is, how it works and what life is like working in mediation in a court setting.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I came to Edinburgh temporarily 14 years ago and have never left! My background is in teaching and editing following a degree in English language and literature and after a somewhat nomadic existence I am very settled in my adopted city, where I live with my husband and daughter.
What first brought you to mediation?
After returning from living abroad, I volunteered for Citizens Advice Edinburgh and then took a paid job as an adviser within the Sheriff Court. It was easy to see how quickly disputes could escalate and end up being costly, stressful and time consuming for people. I saw how empowering mediation could be for people when they had the opportunity to resolve their own conflicts and come up with creative solutions. I then undertook mediation training and started working for Edinburgh Sheriff Court Mediation Service, initially as a caseworker.
Tell us about the Edinburgh Sheriff Court Mediation Service
Edinburgh Sheriff Mediation Service is funded by the Scottish Legal Aid Board Service and managed by Citizens Advice Edinburgh. It has been operating in the Sheriff Court for 20 years. The Mediation Service deals solely with Simple Procedure cases. I am the coordinator of the service and we have a part time administrator and a team of volunteer mediators.
What is your role in the Service?
I am the service coordinator, and manage the process from receiving a referral through to settlement and dismissal of the case. If a case doesn’t settle it returns to court. I am sent referrals from the Sheriff and I assess their suitability for mediation. I then contact the parties and ensure they understand the mediation process and are aware that it is voluntary. I allocate dates and times and mediators. When a case has settled I maintain contact with parties and act as a third party and ensure the settlement is carried out. I arrange all court procedure on behalf of the parties. I am a point of contact for both parties and mediators throughout the process and there to deal with any questions or offer support through the process.
How does the Service work on a day to day basis?
Each day can be different! On a day to day basis I will be speaking to clients, explaining the mediation process, attending court, negotiating between parties, taking part in mediations, preparing documentation, dealing with referrals or interviewing potential mediators.
How do users react to being offered and/or taking part in mediation under the Service?
I have found that many people have misperceptions about mediation and don’t always associate it with the court context. People can be sceptical about what mediation can do for them, which is where information is key so that they can make an informed choice. As problems often arise from a lack of communication, people can be appreciative of being given a confidential forum to re-establish communication, vent their frustration and attempt to untangle the dispute.
What are the biggest pros and cons of mediation in a court setting?
Court mediation can be cheaper and quicker than judicial solutions and it allows parties to retain control of their cases. It can also help to maintain ongoing relationships. A mediated settlement is statistically more likely to be successfully implemented than a court judgement. However, mediation is not suitable in all cases: for example, when a legal precedent needs to be set or a legal point clarified – or the parties are just too far apart and unwilling to make any concessions. I think the most important thing is that people can make an informed choice as to whether to opt for mediation.
How do you see things developing over the next few years?
The use of mediation has been growing in various sectors as people see the benefits of this kind of dispute resolution. With regard to court mediation, I hope to see mediation embedded within all courts in Scotland and seen as another form of dispute resolution parallel to the court process.
What would you most like to see change?
I would like to see the mediation profession gain more respect and recognition and for there to be greater public awareness of the benefits of mediation. I would like to see mediators remunerated for the work they do and for court mediation services no longer to be dependent on volunteers.
For more information contact Court.Mediation@caed.org.uk