Playing peacemaker is probably one of the toughest jobs on earth. In a developed society like Hong Kong, where rights and responsibilities are highly valued, disputes arise in all areas of life.
In the past, conflicts were mainly resolved by legal professionals through litigation, but after Practice Direction 31 came into force in January last year, parties are now encouraged to explore the possibility of mediation before taking their disagreements to court. Charles Lam, managing director of CLLC Dispute Resolution Services, says mediators are not supposed to judge which party is right or wrong. Their duty is to help parties gain a deeper understanding of the issue and push for a win-win situation.
"You have to be mature and know how to communicate with others in order to achieve a fruitful outcome," says Lam.
Mediators have to be accredited by a recognised body, such as the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.
Getting accreditation is just the first step. Quality mediators need to have an in-depth knowledge of the industry they mediate in, Lam says. "It takes years to build knowledge in the industry so [this] is not a job for young people. I think a mediator needs at least six or seven years of experience in the field to be able to mediate," Lam says.
Mediators specialise in a particular area and could come from diverse fields, such as construction, finance and information technology.
Everything disclosed during the mediation process is kept confidential. It is the arbitrator's responsibility to explain to clients the entire procedure. He meets with each party first, Lam says. "My job is to understand the situation of all parties. I am not going to add my personal view."
The mediator encourages all parties to meet and talk again.
"If they can come up with a settlement, I will draft a settlement agreement for them. If not, they might want to take it to court.
"Regardless of the result, all parties are able to gain a better understanding of the dispute. A week or so later, I might contact the parties to see if they want to give things a second chance." Mediators charge an hourly rate, depending on the complexity of the case and the amount of money involved. It can range from HK$1,000 to more than HK$6,000 an hour.
They work on a freelance basis. They register with an arbitration centre to become panel mediators and the centre, in turn, refers clients to them.