The Free Representation Unit (FRU) has launched a scheme that offers free employment mediation to those unable to afford the dispute resolution process. Henderson Chambers, Freshfields, Linklaters and the International Dispute Resolution Centre (IDRC) have teamed up with FRU to set the FRU Employment Relations Mediation (FERM) initiative in motion.
The initiative will see Henderson Chambers’ trained mediators provide free mediation services in employment tribunal cases taken up by the FRU. Trained FRU representatives will be able to suggest the use of the scheme and if the parties agree, Henderson Chambers will provide a free half-day mediation to seek to resolve the dispute.
At FERM’s 29 April launch, Hendersons’ Stephen Powels QC criticised the Government’s unwillingness to back up its policy of mandatory mediation. He said: “The Government is not providing mediators as it provides chairmen and judges – instead, this is left to the private sector. A problem for many is that a half-day or day mediation is an extra costs burden in lawyers’ fees, mediators’ fees and venue expense, with no guarantee of success. Certainly those who qualify for the support of FRU will not be able to afford any sensible part of the cost of a venue or mediator. It is this realisation that has prompted this scheme.”
Henderson Chambers has also offered cut-price mediation training for FRU representatives who qualify for the scheme. The training, supplied by ResoLex and worth £150 but offered at £15 for law students and £40 for barristers and solicitors, will allow FRU representatives to work with FRU clients in the more informal and less intimidating environment of mediation.
Patrick Green, a barrister and mediator at Henderson Chambers, says: “FERM exists to bridge the gap for people otherwise disenfranchised from the increasingly popular dispute resolution process of mediation. Without the scheme, many people would be unable to afford this option, instead resorting to the tribunal system or a mediation in which the mediator is paid for by the employer – a difficult scenario that does not give the impression of neutrality.”
Freshfields, Linklaters and the IDRC are supporting FERM by offering the use of their mediation suites, subject to availability, over the course of the year. Green says: “We’re hoping that as FERM proves more popular, we’ll get more offers for help as mediation is very room-intensive.”