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Launch Of "You, Mediation & The Environment Court"

22 August 2001 Hon Marian Hobbs Speech Notes

Launch of "You, Mediation and the Environment Court" guide, Mediation Centre, Environment Court, Auckland 12.00pm, Wed Aug 22

I am here today to launch a new guide on - You Mediation and the Environment Court, but first I would like to thank Her Honour Principal Judge Allin for being part of this day, and thank you all; the members of the judiciary, commissioners, those from their various professions such as mediators, lawyers, planners and those of you from community and iwi groups who have made the time to come today.

I think it’s only fitting that the launch of this guide is at this wonderful facility, whose purpose is to aid mediation outcomes.
Putting parties at ease with the mediation process, away from the adversarial court room environment was a key reason for this facility. Helping people feel more comfortable with the mediation process is also reason behind this our newest guide - You Mediation and the Environment Court.

We are all aware of the concerns about the increasing case list of the Environment Court. This will partly be addressed by the boost in resources the Court has received ($2.1 million over three years). This will see dramatic improvements in the delays currently being faced. The Court has also taken steps to improve the efficient processing of cases. It has reviewed its case management techniques, and provided mediation centres like this. I congratulate the Court on its initiative.

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But it’s not just about increased resources, or the Court improving processing or as some would suggest amending the RMA to reduce appeal rights. These actions by themselves don’t change people’s behaviours or perceptions; they don’t educate people to use the wide range of possibilities that exist.

If we’re really going to decrease the case list of the Court it will also be important to encourage more people to resolve their disputes through mediation. I think this requires a willingness to move beyond confrontation and grandstanding. It requires hard work, including a willingness to listen to other and work through the issues.

I am concerned that people don’t understand the opportunity mediation provides to get their case through the Environment Court quickly. It’s a free service, with the potential to achieve results by sitting around a table and working through to resolving issues ultimately without a Court hearing. This result is good for everyone but for it to work everyone needs to know his or her job in the process. I believe this guide will help to educate people about the benefits of mediation.

I think we need to educate people about the opportunity mediation provides to get their dispute resolved. I am passionate about education, as an educator in a former life, how could I not be. Education to me is a key part of achieving my vision for the environment, this vision starts with a well informed community. And I mean community in the wider sense, from the informed citizen, to communities of interest including developers, and those with responsibilities, local and central government.

I believe that settlements reached by mediation rather than adversarial methods, not only benefit those parties directly involved in a dispute, but have flow on benefits to all parties by reducing the case lists and therefore the delays and costs of that for everyone.

This guide is what I like to call one of my “people driven publications”. You may already have seen a couple of the others like ‘The RMA and You “ -secretly known as the bloke’s guide - and our best selleing brochure, well it would be if we weren’t giving it away, ”Thinking of living in the Country”.

These guides are not technical documents they are meant to appeal to a wide range of audiences, particularly your average “on the street person”. The mediation guide has been developed by the Ministry with lots of help from experts in mediation - the Environment Court commissioners, registry staff and from organisations such as the Arbitrators and Mediators institute, Leading Experts in Alternative Dispute Resolution and Federated Farmers. My sincere thanks for those contributions.

Another key reason for this guide is the recognition that It’s not easy for any party particularly those involved for the first time to consider a path like mediation which is so different from the one they thought they were travelling- litigation. I think it’s simply that mediation in any litigious environment, is a bit like a shortcut but like a shortcut you only make the best use of it, if you know it exists, and how to use it.

Unlike other jurisdictions, the Environment Court is empowered by the RMA to refer matters for mediation by commissioners, you could say it has an inbuilt shortcut.

But as you and I know successful mediation outcomes are assisted by informed participants i.e. those who have the map, telling them where the short cut is, and how to effectively traverse it. When you have that kind of information you can make smart decisions. And taking up the opportunity to enter mediation is certainly a smart decision for smart people.

It may seem slightly unusual to you that I am launching a booklet on mediation for the average “person on the street” at such a mixed gathering but you are important to ensuring that the information reaches people and is used. You have an important role in passing this onto your clients, early in the process. You have an important role in ensuring that they understand the benefits of mediation.

Imagine the average person who for one reason or another finds themselves a party to an appeal in the Environment Court. They have lodged their appeal along with the $55.00 fee, and then they receive a letter suggesting mediation.

Your average person probably isn’t thinking “Great! This is a good opportunity to reach an agreement in a non-adversarial manner. This will save me money, give me more control and ownership of the outcome.” They’re probably thinking, “What on earth is mediation? I thought I was going to a court hearing in front of a judge.”

A lot of work has gone into making sure that the publication communicates well to them. It is written in plain English and is easy to understand.

Earlier drafts have been tested on the target audience, people in the community, you know, the average everyday person. Their feedback contributed to the way the information is written and presented. And I must say it does look interesting.

Funky headings and funky illustrations on the topics like mediation basics, what triggers mediation, that explain the process, answer common questions and provide simple explanations like what a call over is, which I was finally glad to understand.

All parties to the dispute need to know how mediation works and the role they can play. It is only when armed with this knowledge the parties can then meet and with the help of a commissioner narrow the issues and ultimately reach a settlement. I am confident that this guide will help put all parties to an appeal at ease with the mediation process. It will arm them with the skills to play an active role in resolving their appeals and alleviate pressure on the Court’s caseload, and ultimately all parties that have matters to be heard before it.

It is with great pleasure that I now hand you over to her Honour Principal Judge Allin.

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