Building momentum in mediation research

On 23 February 2017, Victoria University’s Faculty of Law hosted the inaugural Mediation Research Roundtable, bringing together scholars in law and commerce from across the country.

Dr Grant Morris leading the mediation roundtable

Facilitated by Dr Grant Morris (Victoria University of Wellington), and Nina Khouri (the University of Auckland), the roundtable saw representatives from six universities gather with the aim of building a robust culture of mediation research in New Zealand.

“Mediation is an important area of our legal system. It’s part of many statutory regimes, and has a strong presence in the private commercial world,” says Dr Morris.

“The idea was to get mediation scholars together for the first time as a group and discuss research – what we’re working on, what we’re planning, and possible ideas for collaboration.”

He hopes the initiative will help strengthen the place of mediation and dispute resolution within law schools and commerce faculties in New Zealand universities.

“In jurisdictions like Australia and the US, it’s very much part of the curriculum. New Zealand has a strong tradition in the practice of mediation, but as a small country it’s been hard to get that critical mass of scholars you need to build research momentum.

“We’ve ended up being reliant on research from overseas jurisdictions, which leaves us with a lack of New Zealand-specific material.

“That’s what the roundtable hopes to address. We want the practice of mediation to be supported by a strong research culture.”

Dr Morris is currently working on a study of the use of mediation in commercial disputes in New Zealand. It’s the first time research has been done in this area.

“I’ve recently been looking at mediation in insurance disputes – instances where there’s a dispute over an insurance pay-out, and instead of taking it to court, the parties involved go to a mediator. Mediation is being used a lot in Canterbury, by the insurance companies and those seeking to claim for earthquake-related damage.”

The use of mediation has grown exponentially since the 1980s, and can often be cheaper, faster, and better at preserving relationships than going to court, Dr Morris says.

“Sometimes things should go to court, for example, to make precedent, but sometimes it’s not the best approach. Often with businesses in disputes, their lawyers will say, ‘let’s try mediation and see if we can sort it out before we have to pay big bucks to go through a trial’.”