Mediation is a voluntary process conducted confidentially whereby the parties to a dispute are empowered to resolve their differences in a structured yet informal environment with the assistance of an impartial facilitator. This is a definition which has been chosen to describe this particular process of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by those responsible for establishing the law degree and the dispute resolution pathway within it at Christ Church (CCCU).
One of the reasons why dispute resolution was chosen as an area of focus within the law degree curriculum for LLB law students at CCCU, was because following the Access to Justice Act 1999, there were evident signs and developments taking place, indicating that there was a growing interest in ADR, and particularly apparent was an uptake in mediation for the resolution of civil and family disputes.
Citizens’ ability to have readily available opportunities to enforce their civil rights in an attempt to resolve their disputes is embedded within the access to justice principle. In the context of civil justice, this involves providing an infrastructure which is accessible, affordable and produces fair outcomes; commodities that Lord Woolf identified when reviewing the civil justice system in the mid-1990s. Part of the civil justice infrastructure should also arguably include the provision of opportunities for disputes to be resolved through ADR. Members of the senior judiciary in England and Wales, including Lords Neuberger and Jackson support this and have viewed mediation as part of the complement of case management tools to be used by judges in insuring access to justice for litigants, to ensure that substantive justice is protected
Arguably therefore, a law degree that embeds aspects of practical clinical education within the overarching theoretical approach to learning and teaching of ‘real world’ concepts, is a worthy strategy.
This is because it exposes students to the influence and impact made on legal theory by social factors as well as those imposed on society by law. The Mediation Clinic at Canterbury Christ Church University is therefore unique, not least for the fact that it is the first such clinic to be based within a UK university, but one which provides students with the opportunity to learn experientially in an innovative way. By seeing and observing how social justice and particularly ADR operates as displayed by mediation, law students at CCCU are being exposed to a growing paradigm; the resolution of disputes in a different location and without the involvement of court processes; an approach which has been promoted by legislation, the judiciary, many members of the legal profession and successive governments since the Millennium.