Professor Peta Spender,
Deputy Dean of ANU Law School
Statistically, more people will go to their health or welfare advisers than a private lawyer for legal advice.1 As Professor Peta Spender, Deputy Dean of ANU Law School, pointed out in her presentation at ADC’s Innovate, Mediate and Thrive! Symposium, this certainly raises doubts about the accessibility of the civil justice system currently.
Highlighting a number of key innovations in the civil ADR space, Professor Spender’s presentation left no doubts as to the importance of innovation in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of delivering justice.
For many, litigation is unaffordable and time-consuming. ADR provides a lower-cost, time-saving alternative for many civil disputes which provides the parties with more flexibility and a chance to preserve or repair relationships in a less adversarial context. However, exciting developments and potential future changes hope to make ADR even more accessible and effective at helping parties resolve civil disputes, in particular where cross-cultural understanding is required.
Some of the complementary innovations in ADR include:
Mandatory Mediation – Mediation allows the parties to settle their dispute with the assistance of an independent third party, who helps the parties identify their issues and develop options and alternatives in reaching agreement. It is informal and non-binding, thus providing the parties with a high degree of flexibility. A mandatory mediation scheme seeks to broaden access to justice and to improve the efficient delivery of justice,2 through alleviating the pressure on the court system and allowing parties to access dispute resolutions processes earlier.
Online Dispute Resolution – Whilst existing technological devices such as teleconferencing are frequently used to assist in ADR processes, there is exciting potential for future technologies to play an advisory or determinative role. Chat-bot dispute resolution platforms have the benefit of processing large quantities of information, in addition to computationally modelling the problem and suggesting options, which as Professor Spender identified, is a highly valued skill of a mediator.
Courtesy in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Disputes – Professor Spender highlights the importance of ‘thoughtful actions or gestures’ in resolving cross-cultural disputes. She examined the difficulties arising with evidence in native title cases, and how innovation to ADR practices such as speaking on country allows for a greater cross-cultural understanding.
As Professor Spender and the other speakers at ADC’s ‘Innovate, Mediate and Thrive!’ Symposium Series have shown, there is ever-evolving potential for ADR to become more widely used and accessible.
 Christine Coumarelos and Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales. Legal Australia-Wide Survey Legal Need in Australia, Sydney: Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales, 2012 , page 112.
 Slide 7 – Dispute resolution and civil justice – thriving through innovation presentation by Prof Spender at the Australian Disputes Centre, 10 Aug 2018
Presentation Synopsis by Jessica Xu, Dispute Resolution Associate, ADC