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Reader feedback: When in doubt, mediate

Re: Court delays cost millions, May 16 - May 22, 2005, Volume 11, Number 19

Your article suggests a crisis in the Slovak court system. It points to delays and backlogs preventing access to justice, harming the business environment and leading to large compensation payouts.

In fact, one solution is already in place - mediation. The new Slovak Mediation Act was passed in 2004, making mediation for the first time a formal part of the Slovak legal system. Pilot mediation schemes are underway, attached to the Courts in Bratislava Districts 2 and 3, Banská Bystrica, Košice and Prešov. Initial results have been good.

If anything offers the scope to reduce court backlogs and delays significantly and quickly, it is mediation. Mediation is a private, informal method of resolving disputes in which a neutral (and properly trained) mediator assists the parties to work out their own solution to the dispute. It is quicker and cheaper than litigation, and very effective: typically some 80 percent of mediations lead to the parties agreeing on a settlement.

All European countries (and most elsewhere in the world) either already have mediation in their legal systems (UK, The Netherlands, Slovenia) or are in the course of planning it. Work to introduce mediation in Slovakia began in 2001. There is now legislation, effective mediator training schemes, an Association of Mediators of Slovakia, quality control mechanisms, and good links into the courts - in short, all the ingredients of an effective mediation system.

At the European level, there is a draft EU Directive on mediation currently being debated in the European Parliament, which will give credibility and consistency to mediation across the EU. I have been privileged to act as an adviser on mediation to the Slovak government since late 2001 (as well as to other governments such as the UK, Russia, Romania and Bulgaria). I have seen first hand the huge benefits that mediation brings to all court users (businesses and individuals), lawyers, judges and the court system as a whole.

William Marsh,
Director Conflict Management International

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