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A life sentence

All mediations are important to those involved, most of the mediations Northwest Mediation deals with don’t actually involve life sentences, though up to meeting with us the parties may feel like they have been under such a penalty.

In New Orleans however this week a mediation between Jeremy Burse, who shot and killed his friend in a robbery attempt when he was 15, and the family of the deceased and prosecutors for the state, did involve the difference between a life sentence and a shorter time behind bars for the now 23 year old.

The families of the two parties had an emotional meeting after which the family of the victim, Anthony Davis, agreed that Burse should be given a second chance at life and not only was the sentence reduced but the conviction of murder reduced to manslaughter.

Gilda Davis (Anthony’s mum) who now looks after her 6 year old granddaughter said "I can't continue to harbor anger anymore."

The difference between life and 25 years may seem not so big from an objective point of view, Burse will still be nearly 50 when he is released, but it’s often finding out what is important to the parties (not the assumptions of those outside) which ensures a resolution being reached at mediation.

Another matter where mediation could have helped at an early stage came from a case on my desk this year.

A council was suing for the return of an overpayment of monies paid to the parent with care of a child with learning disabilities. There was no suggestion that the overpayment was an error merely that the parent had not provided sufficient evidence of where the money had been spent.

The unaccounted for payment amounted to around £20,000, the council in their wisdom served proceedings on the parent’s old address. The parent had told the council 3 years previous when the payments ended that he was moving to another council area, and indeed that was when the council had stopped payments.

The council was given a second opportunity to serve proceedings but ordered to pay the costs of the impecunious parent up to and including filing of a defence. The second set of proceedings were also struck out as they incorrectly pleaded statutes and fact. The council was again order to pay costs.

The council had by this time incurred (and paid) costs which were more than 20% of the case they were pursuing.

Mediation could (and under EU legislation should) play a part before proceedings got off the ground, a little fact checking would have resolved the issue of the address and a meeting could have been arranged to discuss the evidence required to enable the council to accept there was no overpayment and to note that the parent remains on benefits with no assets out of which to settle an alleged £20,000 debt.

However, as is often the case with lawyers they jumped the gun and issued proceedings. Even if the council is successful in obtaining an order for repayment they will have spent more in costs than they will ever be paid back, something which even a short telephone mediation could have dealt with.

If you’re having trouble with the council, feel like you’re suffering a life sentence due to a neighbour dispute, a commercial dispute, a contractual problem, an inheritance argument, a family matter call Ed Johnson on 07931318347 or via email at

Commercial mediator, property mediator, neighbour mediation, family mediator, contract mediator, business mediator, council mediation

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