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  • Writer's pictureEd Johnson

Bates vs Post Office Mediation

With the continued backlog of cases mediation is now more than ever the best choice to find a resolution for your dispute.  Get your dispute resolved now so you can really concentrate on what’s important and what deserves your time and energy.

Northwest Mediation continues to use Zoom, Skype and FaceTime as well as the phone and emails to resolve disputes should we add we also do live in person mediation too!  So please do not feel that you cannot contact us if you would like to mediate but wish to do so remotely.

I imagine every professional when watching their job portrayed in drama has much the same reaction, “it’s not like that”.  I became used to the prevalence of gavels in judicial drama (no judges never have little hammers), to the jumping up and shouting “objection!” or the “reading of the will”, something that in 30 years of practice I’ve never done (because it doesn’t happen). 

But this week there was brief flash of “mediation” which had me if not quite foaming at the mouth certainly firing a few choice words at the TV.  In Mr Bates vs The Post Office (and as an old lawyer the use of the word “versus” infuriates me when referring to cases, it’s either “and” in a civil case or “against” in a criminal even if it is represented by the letter “v”) we saw what purported to be part of the Post Office’s mediation procedure. 

Now to me the fact it became an internal procedure is part of the issue, no independence there, but also the vision of one post master sat in a room opposite either or more of the opposition had me ranting, one of the key elements of mediation is to ensure parity of power and here was the already deep pocketed and comfortable Post Office mob handed against one person, I hope that wasn’t what the reality of the process was, but I wouldn’t be shocked. 

I also acknowledge that things have moved on since the “mediation” presented in the programme, not that it should have taken this long but at least there is now some hope for those left who are still impacted by the decisions taken as far back as the 1990s and as recently as the 2010s.

Mediation isn’t about one against the mob the parties must be equally represented and in some cases protected.  I have had cases where a solitary person turns up for one side and the other brings 2 (or in some cases 3) lawyers, it’s why separate rooms and making sure you have designed and controlled the setting is important (it never escapes me that if we are meeting at one party’s solicitor’s office that the “visiting” party gets the smaller, colder room – and yes I’ve made them switch before).

If, as ITV’s drama suggests this was the manner in which any of the negotiations were conducted I can confidently say it was not mediation, not by a country mile.  I think as it’s been nearly 30 years since I used to work on Post Office personal injury cases that I’m not causing any issues when I say the aggressive tactics don’t necessarily shock me but I would hope any institution claiming to use mediation in the future thinks first about the equality of the parties to the process and second about how to skew things for a “win”.

And how we mediate is one of the topics in this article, whether we zoom or not.  Keith D Heinold discusses the various options for mediation, in person (as would have nearly always been the case pre-pandemic), wholly virtual or a hybrid of some in some out.

You have to think carefully not just about your clients’ wishes but the strength of the parties, ensuring that broadband speed is sufficient for all as well as making sure both are just as comfortable (or not) working online.  I dislike hybrid mediation in this sense (there’s a different kind of hybrid mediation in family which involves lawyers and clients and mediators) there’s too much risk of the appearance of preference if one party is physically with you and the other is not, what’s said when cameras are off, the imagined jolly interplay between you at the lunch break all can suggest to the remote client that any preference implied is because you are working “with” the other side rather than being neutral.

Keith goes on to discuss the opening statement/position statement and how these have become in some cases power point presentations, if you come to me I’ll often suggest limiting your opening to one page, I don’t need you to rehash the whole case just focus on what’s really important to you (not necessarily what your lawyers have presented).

He ends with a reminder that sending the decision makes to mediation is crucial (reflecting om the Post Office’s system as presented the decision makers for the PO weren’t in the room so how was it ever going to resolve matters).

OK so this article caught my eye because of the Rawhide reference (rolling, rolling, rolling).  First Pitch Entertainment LLC who own baseball team Visalia Rawhide may be going back into mediation with, Visalia (the city). As the city has said it wants to go back into mediation to try and resolve who is paying for the required upgrade to the stadium.  

It’s interesting to see the requirements that were brought in by the governing body (especially if you’ve ever sat at a minor level football club’s stadium in the uk and wondered if there are any standards).

Sam Sigal co-owner of the team has stated they are committed to staying in the town but cannot do so without some support from the public purse.  It will no doubt be a balancing issue for Visalia as to how much money the team draws in to the area not least in terms of jobs and rates payments against how much they can commit from what is no doubt a fairly tightly controlled budget in these difficult times.

The city already provides $300,000 pa for improvements and is responsible for a further $200,000 in upgrades so it is easy to see why the city may feel they have committed enough however sensible as they are they want to try mediation to see how many different ways forward there might be and what’s the best option for everyone.

Brian Poochigian, city councillor said “The Visalia City Council values having the Rawhide as part of our community…This dispute has never been about whether the City supports baseball in Visalia. The issue here was simply whether Major League Baseball could demand an open checkbook requiring the taxpayers of Visalia to pay whatever amount of money to do whatever MLB wants done to the City’s ballpark.”

And finally this week a quick reminder that when it comes to inheritance disputes mediation is the best way forward (and as a side note- I’m the man for the job!).

The article is a nice list and reminder to those involved of what you can expect in terms of agreeing to mediate then choosing a mediator (choose me) and then how all parties come to the table (or more often tables in separate rooms) followed by discussions and eventually resolutions.

Another discussion that arose from the Post Office programme was how far mediation could go, clearly it could never as a process overturn convictions, however that is very limited thinking.  Mediation goes outside the box, crumples the box up and sometimes just burns the box to find ways forward. So whilst I agree that mediation could not by itself have overturned the convictions the parties could have agreed to support an application for overturning, yes it would have taken some pride swallowing but it was and is possible, instead of which the government and the parties have been left spending even more over an even longer period to resolve what everyone can now see always was a miscarriage of justice.  Mediation properly used and engaged in could have resolved matters so much sooner.  I hope for all involved the end of this story is in sight.

The three pillars of mediation remain it’s voluntary (at the moment), it’s confidential, the mediator is independent, by using those pillars to support your work the parties keep control, save costs, save time and energy and reduce stress. 

In person or via electronic media as we’ve said before choose to mediate early and resolve your issues effectively, timeously, and with less stress and costs than going to your solicitor so you can get out choose a different path, not quite the road less travelled but perhaps the path less adversarial. You have an interest in the outcome the sooner you get round the mediation table the quicker you can move forward and avoid the grilling a cross examination in court would put you through.

By having a deep and meaningful discussions with parties the mediator elicits what the true “red-lines” are and where there is the potential for compromise, it is with this structured period of reflection that the parties are then able to reach an accord.

The flexible nature of mediation and the possible outcomes make it an ideal way to resolve disputes in an ever-changing world and the open nature of discussions in mediation whilst remaining confidential allows all sides to engage fully in the process and understand the needs of all involved allowing parties to reach a conclusion which both sides can live with and move on.

There are so many situations which could have been resolved by early intervention of mediation it continues to surprise me the lengths the public will go to avoid referral.

Whether you need a mediator to help out with a construction matter in the Northwest, or council’s plans in Cheshire, a civil mediator in London, a commercial mediator in Manchester, a dispute resolution for your family in Liverpool, a neighbourhood mediation in Stockport, then our mediators at Northwest Mediation can help.

Mediation is cheaper, quicker and less stressful than running any case to court, it can help with any dispute whether it's an employment issue or the sale at an under value of a property, a fight with a neighbour, family issues, commercial disputes, civil mediation or inheritance, wills and probate arguments contact me at Northwest Mediation on 0161 667 4418 or via email at

neighbour mediation; commercial dispute resolution; civil mediation; commercial dispute; corporate dispute; commercial mediator; family mediation; inheritance wills probate mediation; property mediator; civil mediator; civil litigation; fast track mediation; injury mediation

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