Isabel Viola: ’The percentage of conflicts that are solved through mediation in the European Union is still low, and we need to promote and disseminate it.’

Isabel Viola.Isabel Viola.

21 January is the European Day of Mediation. It commemorates the approval of the first European legislative text, 25 years ago, on this method of resolving conflicts without resorting to judicial proceedings. Several institutions are organising events to mark this day. The UB has given a conference at the Mundet Campus and has carried out initiatives at the Faculty of Law. We take this opportunity to reflect on the current use of mediation with Isabel Viola, lecturer of Civil Law and co-director of the Legal Clinic on Housing and Residential Mediation.

In what type of conflict can mediation be particularly useful?

Mediation is a space for dialogue, in which a mediator participates, and chairs this dialogue in an impartial and neutral way. It is therefore recommended to encourage good communication between people, so that they can talk and be listened to, solve misunderstandings, and manage their emotions. It also helps to empower people: it enables them to manage disputes by themselves and to see what their interests and needs are. In short, it transforms a conflict situation. In situations where the parties want to preserve a personal or legal relationship in the future, or where they want to end it peacefully and efficiently, mediation is a particularly useful procedure.

What are the necessary elements for a successful mediation process?

The success of mediation is usually related to the final agreement of the people who have participated in the process. And indeed, reaching a consensus that includes the respective interests and needs, and that resolves the dispute, makes the parties feel satisfied and comply with what they have agreed. The situation is solved. There are also procedures that end without specific agreements. This should not be interpreted as a failure.

They are cases in which the parties have listened to each other, have been able to express themselves in a space of dialogue and respect, have forgiven each other or have acknowledged the different sensitivities and views of the conflict situation. In short, the relationship has been transformed. Some mediators understand that getting two people who are in conflict to attend the first mediation session is already a success. Mediation is a procedure that promotes social peace.

In any case, the willingness of all parties to manage the dispute situation collaboratively, and the professional chairing of the procedure by the mediator, are elements that contribute to the success of a mediation.

What is the state of implementation of mediation in Europe, and is there scope to expand the cases where it is used?

Following the recommendations of the European Council and with the European Union’s regulations in the field of consumer law and civil and commercial law, mediation has been incorporated into the legislation of the member states to promote awareness and dissemination, with different results depending on whether it is a compulsory pre-trial procedure or a voluntary one. The reports reveal that the percentage of conflicts that are solved through mediation in the European Union is still low and that, therefore, further efforts must be made to promote, disseminate and foster it. Mediation is already well known in the fields of international, family, inheritance, community, criminal (restorative or restorative justice), labour, business, health, sports, school, city planning, etc. It is in the area of Administration that there has been an increase in the number of cases referred to mediation thanks to the positive experiences of the pilot programmes in the administrative courts.

What can we highlight about the teaching and research work being done at the UB Faculty of Law on mediation?

The teaching staff of the Faculty of Law have been involved in the promotion and dissemination of mediation in teaching since the late nineties of the last century, with optional and compulsory subjects in the different university degrees and postgraduate courses offered at the Faculty and also in the Faculty’s own degrees, with specific courses and in national and international institutions. We participate in the university master’s degree in Conflict Mediation, a professional, research and interdisciplinary degree, which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary, and which we teach together with psychology, pedagogy, education and economics.

Research plays a fundamental role. We participate in projects of the Centre for Legal Studies and Specialised Training of the Catalan Government, the Spanish Ministry, and other institutions, which delve into legal aspects (White Paper on Mediation in Catalonia). We also carry out research into the mediation procedure with the aim of responding to both general issues and specific areas (consumer affairs, housing, health, business, criminal and community justice, etc.), information that is transferred to society.

On the occasion of the European Day of Mediation, we can mention our joint work with the Scientific Culture and Innovation Unit of the UB. After participating in several editions of the Science Festival with practical cases of mediation and giving a training session in a school as part of UB Divulga, this year the researchers Elena Lauroba, Imma Barral and myself have created the content of a poster for primary healthcare centres (CAP), which shows the process of resolving a neighbourhood conflict through mediation. It includes, with representations, the essential aspects of the procedure (people decide, everything is confidential, it goes quickly, there is no trial) and some of the areas in which it can be useful (health, consumption, family or business).