UNCITRAL Completes a New Mediation Framework, Based on the Singapore Convention

By Mylene Chan

Earlier this month, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law adopted the UNCITRAL Mediation Rules, the UNCITRAL Notes on Mediation, and the Guide to Enactment and Use of the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Mediation and International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation. 

Judith Knieper, Legal Officer at the UNCITRAL Secretariat, at a side forum on investor-state mediation, commented that these texts complete UNCITRAL’s mediation framework, with the milestone 2018 Singapore Convention on international settlement agreements as a pillar. 

Starting in 1980, UNCITRAL began to develop a mediation framework, which now includes the following:

  • UNCITRAL Conciliation Rules (1980) (updated in 2021).
  • UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Conciliation (2002) (amended in 2018).
  • UNCITRAL Guide to Enactment and Use of the 2002 Model Law (2002) (replaced in 2021).
  • UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Mediation and International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (2018) (amending the 2002 Model Law). See page 2 of UNCITRAL Working Document 1073 here.
  • The United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (2018), commonly known as the “Singapore Convention.”
  • UNCITRAL Mediation Rules (2021) (updating the 1980 Conciliation Rules)
  • UNCITRAL Notes on Mediation (2021).
  • Guide to Enactment and Use of the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Mediation and International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (2021) (replacing the 2002 Guide) (available in the Working Document linked above). 

These texts provide a means for the harmonization of laws, procedural rules, and enforcement mechanisms for international mediation. The most significant tool for international commercial dispute resolution is the Singapore Convention, which enables enforcement of mediated settlement agreements among its signatories.

As a result of the adoption of the Singapore Convention, international businesses now have an effective alternative to litigation and arbitration in resolving cross-border disputes.  Judith Knieper said that 54 states had signed the Singapore Convention, and she said she hoped that more will join as many states are currently engaged in the ratification process.

The UNCITRAL Secretariat has invited CPR to participate as an observer delegation to its Working Group II deliberations, and solicited its comments on the drafts to facilitate finalizing the texts. The UNCITRAL Working Group II is composed of UNCITRAL’s 60-member states and has been developing work focused on mediation, arbitration, and dispute settlement. 

During UNCITRAL’s recent 54th session, which ran from June 28 and concluded July 16, and was held in person in Vienna, Working Group II introduced a number of updated provisions aimed at taking into account recent mediation trends and developments, including court-ordered mediation. See page 2 UNCITRAL Working Document 1074 here. UNCITRAL incorporated Working Group II’s revisions as part of the newly adopted UNCITRAL Mediation Rules.

Major updates in the UNCITRAL Mediation Rules include the following:

  • Clarify that the rules apply to mediation regardless of the process’s origin, including an agreement between the parties, an investment treaty, a court order, or a mandatory statutory provision.
  • Introduce a definition of mediation.
  • Stipulate that in a case of conflict, mandatory provisions in the applicable international instrument, court order, or law will prevail.
  • Specify that mediation commences when the disputants agree to engage in the mediation.
  • Require disclosure of circumstances regarding impartiality or independence.
  • Permit use of alternative means of communication during the mediation and of remote consultations.
  • Provide that information shared by parties with the mediator is confidential unless parties express otherwise.
  • Update the provisions governing the preparation of settlement agreements to take into account UNCITRAL’s legal framework, including the recently adopted Singapore Convention.  
  • Address the interaction between mediation and other proceedings.
  • Provide for exclusion of liability for mediators.
  • Encourage gender and geographical diversity in selection of mediators.
  • Specify that parties and the mediator should agree upfront on the methods of assessing mediation costs, with multiparty mediations shared on a pro rata basis.

UNCITRAL is expected to publish the UNCITRAL Mediation Rules and the UNCITRAL Notes on Mediation together later this year, according to a statement at the end of the session.

UNCITRAL’s work on mediation will continue with the drafting of rules and guidelines relating to investor-state mediation and with work exploring educational best practices, according to an official’s comments in a side forum, which is a lunch-hour roundtable in which UNCITRAL officials discussed topics related to UNCITRAL’s work.

Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Prof. Lela Love, who is chair of the International Advisory Board on Mediation for the Office of Ombudsman for the United Nations Funds and Programmes, commented about the developments reported here:

All this remarkable focus on mediation—and activity around it—heralds a new era for the dispute resolution process that ideally promotes enhanced understanding, dialogue and creative problem solving.  This may be a renaissance time for mediation—one that is very welcome in the divided and polarized time we inhabit.

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The author, an LLM candidate at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, has covered UNCITRAL’s 54th Session proceedings as a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.

Love’s New Mediation Data: Whither the Joint Session?

By Temitope Akande

New York Law School’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program kicked off its first 2021 round of biweekly Wednesday lunch conversations yesterday featuring mediator Lela Porter Love, a law professor and director of the Kukin Program for Conflict Resolution at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

Love opened by emphatically noting that dialogue is currently dying or impoverished, even on the political scene. Mediation, she said, “is the last bastion,” with mediators trained to promote dialogue. But even in mediation, there is “less and less mandate for mediators to bring parties together into joint sessions.”

Her discussion was mostly based on a 2019 survey of practicing mediators in a professional group, the International Academy of Mediators, to determine the use of joint and caucus sessions. Presenting a PowerPoint, “The Disappearing Joint Session,” based on 129 responses and anecdotal discussions, Love said that the data reflects the title: There is a lessening frequency of the use of joint sessions and more reliance on mediators conducting caucuses with individual parties.

Prof. Love moved to a 2017 survey by the American Bar Association Dispute Resolution Section Task Force on the Relation of Mediator Actions to Mediation Outcomes also on the use of caucus during mediation. The results, she said, were counterintuitive: caucusing had an increased settlement effect in labor-management disputes, but no effect, according to her presentation slide, “in other types of disputes regardless of [the] purpose of caucus (i.e., whether to establish trust or discuss settlement proposals).”

She said that the use of caucus has shown that parties are more likely to file an enforcement action based on their settlement—which indicates that increased caucusing didn’t reduce acrimony. As a result, caucus sessions, while they may increase labor-management case settlement, may have potential for negative effects on the parties’ perceptions and relationships.

Love discussed the caucusing results in a broad Maryland state judiciary ADR evaluation report. Based on the evaluation of caucus sessions, the greater the percentage of time participants spent in caucus, the less likely the parties were satisfied with the outcome, and the less likely the participants report that the issues “were resolved with a fair and implementable outcome.”

“On balance,” said Love, “you don’t see this real, ‘Wow, now I understand why there is this great move to caucusing.’”

The Maryland study showed that when the mediators controlled the sessions, limiting the issues instead of presenting a broad range, parties showed an increase in a desire to better understand the other party. The long-term aftereffects results show that the greater percentage of time participants spent in caucus, the more likely participants will return to court for an enforcement action after mediation, reflecting a lack of durability of those mediation results.

Love further discussed the values that influence mediation style and reasons why mediators use caucus sessions instead of joint sessions, returning to the IAM study. First, mediators who do not use joint sessions primarily do not do so because attorneys do not want joint sessions.

The second reason they lean toward caucus and away from joint sessions is that parties tend to decline joint sessions because they feel more comfortable participating in the mediation process by sharing their stories in caucus sessions with the mediator, rather than facing their adversary. “People in conflict are really angry at each other and they don’t want to see each other,” explained Love.

Love further noted that mediators were mostly trained to use joint sessions, though different schools of mediation also favored caucuses. A more important factor in constructing and conducting mediation sessions is that a significant purpose is to get people together to heal relationships—as opposed to the “war” of adjudication–which orients toward using joint sessions.

Prof. Love concluded by stressing that listening helps settle cases, and it is important in helping people tell their stories. The mediators who seek to identify the parties’ interests perhaps are doing only one aspect of the process, noted NYLS ADR Skills Program Director and moderator F. Peter Phillips, who added that mediation might be better handled if the emphasis was on all parties listening and working to understand one another. Love concurred, and, noting that mediators are witnesses to the participants’ stories, suggested that neutrals provide “respectful-person listening” that enhances the process.

Love’s Jan. 13 NYLS Conversations in Conflict Resolution session is available on YouTube at https://bit.ly/3nOluyK.

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The author, who received a Master of Laws in Alternative Dispute Resolution last May at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in Los Angeles, is volunteering with the CPR Institute through Spring 2021.

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