Amendment passed to address Women’s Aid worries over mediation
Legislation to offer mediation as alternative to court proceedings must go back to Dáil
Senator Lynn Ruane: she said her amendment was “just a line” obliging lawyers to remind the person that mediation was voluntary, and it may not be an option for them if there was a risk to their safety
An amendment to address concerns that victims of domestic abuse may be pressurised in new legislation to participate in mediation with their estranged partners has been accepted in the Seanad by 24 votes to 17.
Independent Senator Lynn Ruane introduced the amendment to the Mediation Bill, legislation aimed at promoting mediation as an effective, faster and lower-cost alternative to court proceedings in civil disputes which would also relieve the stress involved in court proceedings.
The amendment to the Mediation Bill means that the legislation will have to go back to the Dáil, and will not now be passed before the autumn unless the Dáil is reconvened early.
Ms Ruane said the amendment was the “mildest” of three she had put down for consideration.
The measure states that “the solicitor must advise the client that mediation is voluntary” and that it may not be appropriate in the dispute “where the safety of the client and/or their children is at risk”.
The legislation requires solicitors to inform their clients of the benefits of mediation as an option, and to provide them with information on mediation services.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan emphasised that mediation was a voluntary process in the legislation, and this was the “core” of the Bill.
He said there were times when mediation would not be an appropriate means to resolve a dispute, and one was where domestic violence had occurred or where the safety of a party or child was at risk.
The Minister said the obligation on solicitors to inform people about mediation did not apply in family law cases or divorce proceedings.
The Bill explicitly excludes mediation under the Domestic Violence Acts, such as in cases of domestic violence applications such as barring or safety orders. However, people subjected to domestic abuse may be asked to take part in mediation to settle disputes over issues such as custody and access to children.
Women’s Aid, a charity that deals with victims of domestic abuse, had expressed concern that women who had been subjected to abuse by their ex-partners might feel pressurised into engaging in mediation.
Ms Ruane said there could be instances where domestic violence was an issue but proceedings had not been taken, and a woman subjected to abuse might feel it was her only option.
The Trinity College Senator said her amendment was “just a line” obliging lawyers to remind the person that mediation was voluntary, and it may not be an option for them if there was a risk to their safety.
She said the amendment would also address the question of a barrister or solicitor feeling they were being intrusive by asking if there were safety implications or violence in the household.
Independent Senator Alice Mary Higgins, who supported the amendment, said people who “may come from a climate of intimidation” might feel obliged to use mediation because “a professional is telling them” about it. It would remind the solicitor to remind the client that mediation was voluntary.