New body will uphold mediation standards
A new regulatory body will be set up early next year to standardise the accreditation of mediators.
Co-founded by the Law Society, Bar Association, International Arbitration Centre and the Mediation Centre, the Hong Kong Mediation Accreditation Association will ensure accredited mediators comply with its code of conduct, and discipline those who do not. But it will not have the same power as the statutory bodies covering the legal and medical professions, so institutions that do not join can continue to train and accredit mediators.
As many as 50 institutions can accredit meditators, whose task is to help resolve legal disputes in civil cases without resorting to litigation. They come from all walks of life and can be as diverse as lawyers, accountants and air hostesses.
Andrew Chiu Ka-yin, chairman of the Mediation Centre's public-relations and membership committee, says the sooner the assessment of mediators is standardised the better.
The judiciary has promoted the use of mediation as a quicker, less costly alternative to litigation, which can also relieve the burden on courts. In 2010 the government set up the Mediation Task Force, chaired by Wong Yan-lung, justice secretary at the time, to bring forward the Mediation Ordinance, which was passed last month, and form a single accreditation body for mediators.
There are no official figures on the total number of accredited mediators, though Wong put it at around 1,600 in May.
John Budge, chairman of the accreditation group of the task force, said: 'Quite a lot of people would like to have a unified system for accreditation and have a common standard in Hong Kong. We want to create a premium accreditation body in Hong Kong.'
Budge said the new body was not meant to edge out the small players. They could join the new body as members if their training and accreditation were up to standard, he said.
Budge says it was important to ensure all mediators were competent.
'It is always a very difficult balance between accessing justice and settling cases. There is always a tension between trying to make parties resolve matters satisfactorily and doing the job so that the parties don't feel judges forced them to mediate,' he said.
Chan Bing-woon, the task force's chairman for public education and publicity, said that the new, independent body would help boost public confidence in mediators, even though the sector received only a few complaints.
The International Arbitration Centre, which has 871 accredited mediators, said it had no record of any complaints since it was set up in 1985.
The Mediation Centre, which has more than 600 accredited mediators, receives a handful of complaints, which are rarely substantiated. Complaints include conflicts of interest among mediators and failures to settle disputes, according to Chiu.
'I am aware of one accredited mediator being removed from our panel due to his criminal conduct, which was completely unrelated to mediation. But we decided to remove him from our panel to protect the public image of integrity and honesty of mediators,' Chiu said.