Mediation push aims to ease load of courts

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 November, 2007, 12:00am

The government will set up a cross-sector group to study how to promote mediation in legal cases in an effort to take the pressure off overcrowded court schedules.

Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung told an RTHK programme that the working group would examine ways to push for more arbitration services in the community to reduce the social costs of litigation.

It would be formed by the end of next month.

'Many Hongkongers are still unfamiliar with mediation, and this is the case even in legal circles,' Mr Wong said. 'I believe mediation services have a lot of room to develop.'

Mediation is a voluntary process in which a trained, impartial mediator helps the parties discuss disputes in a confidential setting. The process is completed with an agreement, a legally enforceable contract.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen pledged to promote such services in his policy address.

Mr Wong said arbitration had become a trend in countries with advanced legal systems, such as Britain, the US, Canada and Australia.

'Disputes do not always have to be handled by the courts. Mediation services can reduce social costs and help reconciliation,' he said.

A 2004 study showed that among 933 cases handled in a three-year pilot scheme for free family mediation, 69.5 per cent reached full agreements and 9.7 per cent reached partial agreements. A full agreement took an average of 10.3 hours to achieve.

Mr Wong said earlier this year that the government would use mediation in land and personal injury cases to lighten court loads.