The peak bodies for alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in Australia and New Zealand have signed a memorandum of understanding to promote the use of ADR methods in the region.
The agreement has been struck between the Institute of Arbitrators & Mediators Australia (IAMA) and the Arbitrators and Mediators' Institute of New Zealand (AMINZ)
The news follows an announcement made earlier this year by Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland and New Zealand Justice Minister Simon Power that both countries will, as a priority, introduce legislation to make resolving legal disputes across the Tasman cheaper, more efficient and less complicated.
IAMI president Michael Kirby told Lawyers Weekly that the agreement is another step in the wider, ongoing process of integrating the Australian and New Zealand economies and institutions.
"The integration of our economies and judicial and other institutions has progressed enormously. That has happened in the court area and this is a step in the informal process of dispute resolution," he said.
He said ADR can have particular advantages for cross border disputes. "It can provide a one-stop-shop for getting resolution of disputes which might have otherwise involved quite intricate and difficult fact and law," he said. "It can concentrate the mind on the bottom line and on getting the resolution of an entire dispute, [and] it can avoid jurisdictional problems and provide for practical or commercial solutions."
Kirby said he believes similar agreements with other countries within the Asia Pacific region are likely to follow, adding that such agreements can be particularly beneficial in disputes involving both civil law and common law jurisdictions
"It's often highly desirable that provisions should be made for the arbitration and mediation of disputes simply because of the different legal rules, and for the identification of the law of the jurisdiction which is going to apply to the resolution of any dispute that arises," he said. "As trade increases greatly in our region we're going to need methods including the courts, but also including procedures of ADR."
But while he believes there are clear benefits to be gained from promoting ADR, Kirby emphasized that he is not blind to its potential pitfalls, noting the need for a rigorous accreditation process.
"I do want to emphasize that on the subject of ADR, I'm not starry eyed," he said. "I realize that there are problems and we have to address those problems They include making sure that by processes of accreditation we have high standards of competence and experience when people take over responsibility of mediation. I myself am going to undergo the mediation training course of IAMA ... my own view is that being a lawyer in court is not necessarily a perfect preparation for ADR. There's a need to upgrade your knowledge and experience and learn from others, and that's what I'm going to do," he said.
He added that one of the issues that will need to be explored under the Australia/New Zealand memoranda is whether a system of mutual recognition of accreditations granted in either country can be established.
- Zoe Lyon