Resolution PPC forum 11 July 2019

Ian Walker Divorce Lawyer Photo headshot

On 11 July I attended the annual get-together of mediator professional practice consultants. Here is the write-up of the day which I wrote for Resolution’s member magazine.

If I had written this is a blog post I would have included more subheadings and pictures to break it up a bit!

Resolution PPC forum 11 July 2019

For several years Resolution have been running an annual training day for Mediation Professional Practice Consultants (PPC’s). Originally this was just for Resolution registered PPC’s, but in the last few years Resolution have invited PPC’s from all Family Mediation Council representative bodies. In the historically fractious world of family mediation this has been a very helpful step by Resolution and the PPC Forum has become a central date in the mediation calendar.

This year, to coincide with the opening of Resolution’s new offices at 91-95 Southwark Bridge Rd, the PPC day moved from its previous home at Woburn House, Tavistock Square to the training suite at Southwark Bridge Road.

The downside of the change of venue was that the number of PPC’s who were able to attend was reduced from over 100 down to only around 50. The upside was that this made for a more intimate occasion and the Q&A and debate sessions became much more inclusive. There is also scope to record the highlights of this and other training for inclusion on the Resolution training portal.

The day was hosted by Resolution’s Angela Lake Carol and Suzy Power. The main event was a presentation by Robert Creighton, Chair of the Family Mediation Standards Board, ably supported by Helen Anthony, Executive Officer of the Family Mediation Council followed by Q and A.

Now, I appreciate that all this may not at first blush be very interesting to most Resolution members, but please bear with me!

There is an ongoing tension within the world of mediation. This is between those who view mediation as a professional activity (many of the lawyers) and those who view mediation as a profession in its own right. This tension manifests itself in part in the way in which the standards provide a route to accreditation and practice. (Compare with family mediation the lack of requirements to practice as say a workplace mediator).

For members who wish to undertake legally aided mediation, accreditation is necessary in order to meet the requirements of the legal aid agency. It is quite possible to practice as a mediator without being accredited – but to be a resolution mediator – it is still necessary to have a PPC and to undertake professional supervision and to comply with the requirements of Resolution, which in turn comply with the standards of the Family Mediation Council – of which Resolution is of course a member.

A key theme in the presentation by Robert Creighton was the ongoing review of mediation standards. The Standards Board were focusing initially on accreditation and more specifically the route to accreditation. Over the years, too many Resolution members (and others) will have undertaken the mediation foundation training but will have found the pathway from training to accreditation to be impossible to traverse. The current pathway is considered by some to be unnecessarily bureaucratic and onerous – requiring the demonstration of the required level of competency for accreditation through the preparation of a portfolio, submission of three completed Memoranda of Understanding (final mediation summaries) and the completion of at least 10 hours supervision with their PPC.

Robert Creighton had written to PPC’s in June about the work of the Standards Review Accreditation Working Group – and this letter (which is hopefully reproduced somewhere on the resolution website) formed the starting point for discussion.

Robert Creighton outlined how, whilst the plan isn’t to water down the standard of skill which it is necessary to demonstrate, thought is being given to how to make the demonstration of the necessary standard of skill easier. He indicated the intention of the FMC to ask Stan Lester – who had been heavily involved in the drawing up of the current standards/pathway – to look at how the pathway could be recast in a more flexible way – retaining the principle but improving the practical.

Robert outlined how changes could include increasing the time through which it was necessary to achieve accreditation after training, allowing evidence from mediations which did not complete successfully – but where a mediator could demonstrate their skill, perhaps introducing a better proportionality regarding the 10 hours of PPC consultation before accreditation requirements (no one in the room – including organisation representatives on the FMC could quite remember how the ten-hour requirement had been set at that level).

Robert tantalisingly suggested that it may be possible to move to a position where we end up with an enhanced foundation training (perhaps modular?) Which ends in accreditation. Before anyone got too excited about what would have been a comprehensive solution to the difficulties of the route to accreditation for many, he pointed out that the Standards Board had limited time and would initially concentrate on making the current pathway a bit more straightforward – (rather than focusing the available time on finding an all embracing solution which provides a simple pathway to accreditation for everyone – my words! – But at least the genie is out of the bottle on this).

An excellent idea from the floor (from our own Karen Barham) was the idea of the option of the equivalent of an observed driving test – where the unaccredited mediator could demonstrate their competency by actually showing what they could do in real life – as opposed to writing reams and reams and reams analysing how what they have done met the standard. Imagine if we all had to prepare the equivalent of a mediation portfolio instead of undertaking a driving test! Hopefully this is something which will gain traction.

In the afternoon, we looked at the President’s Private Law Report – from Mr Justice Cobb, which is currently out for consultation. Everyone please respond – it’s important. Unfortunately, the revitalised MIAM being promoted in the consultation seemed to all those in the room to be exactly the same as what a MIAM should look like anyway! Perhaps there was insufficient of mediator input in the private law working party? But, there’s no getting away from the fact that the Private Law Programme does require reform and we all felt that given that applications to the court are increasing, and the uptake of MIAMs and mediation has not, that court applicants (and respondents) need to be doing more to try and resolve their disputes sensibly out of proceedings.

Between these discussions were challenging scenarios for discussion between the attendees as to how they would deal with problems arising for their consultees and the usual networking with colleagues from across the mediation world.

There was an unintended theme within the day which was not unnoticed – of the apparent randomness of some dates around mediation: why should a MIAM become invalid after four months? Why should it be a requirement to achieve accreditation within three years of foundation training (without seeking extension)? Why should a prospective accreditee need exactly 10 hours PPC supervision before accreditation? No one quite knew. This reminded me of Henry Brown (mediation pioneer, FMA founder, founder of SFLA (Resolution) sole mediator offering and after whom the Henry Brown lecture at the DR Conference is named in honour) explaining to me at least once, that there was no science involved when the length of a “normal” mediation session was set as 1.5 hours – it just seemed like a good idea at the time! Mediation should always be able to be flexible.

We learned on the PPC day that there are currently around 700/750 accredited mediators in England and Wales and the population of mediators is around 1100 if we include those working towards accreditation. We were told that both numbers were currently reasonably stable. However from looking around the room, I didn’t see many new faces, and I think everyone understands that the population of mediators is ageing – and whilst it may be able to cope with the amount of work that there currently is – it is probably insufficient to cope with the amount of work that there should be – in which case hopefully the current review of process will lead to better routes to accreditation – which will ultimately make the proposition of training as a mediator more attractive. From my own perspective – I have never met a lawyer who has not become a better lawyer after training as a mediator and simply as a skills course the foundation training is highly recommended. Hopefully we will see more new faces in the next few years?

Ian Walker is a Solicitor (qualified 1992) and Mediator (qualified 1996) and a current member of the Resolution DR Committee and Chair of Resolution Devon Region. The views expressed here are entirely Ian’s own.