Commercial mediation is a method of dispute resolution whereby the parties to a dispute arising out of a commercial transaction attempt to resolve it through a negotiation process facilitated or directed by a neutral third party, who has no decision-making power over the dispute and the parties.
There are three features that distinguish mediation from any other method of resolving commercial disputes (negotiation, arbitration, litigation, etc.).
Mediation is an eminently consensual procedure. The consent of both parties must be present at all stages of the process:
Numerous laws and regulations reflect this principle of voluntariness by expressly providing that one or both parties may terminate the mediation at any time. See, e.g., Art. 8.1.b) of the ICC Mediation Rules or Art. 1.1 of Law 5/2012 of 6 July 2012 on Mediation in Civil and Commercial Matters.
Self-determination means that the parties are free to shape almost every aspect of their mediation at will.
Unlike in arbitration, where arbitrators largely govern the process and settle the dispute, in mediation it is the parties who determine by mutual agreement every detail of the procedure and the substance of their negotiations. The mediator is generally limited to proposing, structuring and facilitating the exchange of information and settlement offers.
This principle is now explicitly laid down in numerous mediation rules and regulations. See, e.g., Art. 7.1 of the ICDR International Mediation Rules or Art. 10.1 of Law 5/2012 of 6 July on Mediation in Civil and Commercial Matters.
Mediation is basically a negotiation guided by an impartial and independent third party, chosen by the parties to help them put an end to their dispute. This third party has no decision-making power over the dispute or the parties. His or her intervention serves as a channel for the parties to continue negotiating, since by the time the mediator intervenes, the parties are generally no longer able to communicate effectively.
In fact, as a third party outside the dispute, and with no personal or direct interest in its resolution, the mediator is in a position to detect and filter out those obstacles that prevent fluid and fruitful communication between the parties. See, e.g., Art. 7.3 of the ICC Mediation Rules or Arts. 7 and 8 of Law 5/2012, of 6 July, on Mediation in Civil and Commercial Matters.
These characteristics give mediation its unique value, allowing the parties to focus on their commercial and economic interests in order to find an effective solution.
As a method of resolving commercial disputes, the main advantages of mediation over other mechanisms are as follows:
All that has been said in favour of mediation should not be understood to be to the detriment of arbitration. If the parties cannot settle their differences through mediation, arbitration allows the parties to obtain a remedy without having to fight their case before courts in countries where the administration of justice is sometimes seriously flawed or seriously inconvenient.
In short, both mechanisms occupy their own unique place in the panoply of the most modern methods of dispute resolution.