Family mediation services were required between two brothers. Slipping into fifth gear, and hitting 70 mph, I headed up the M40 towards Royal Leamington Spa, wondering what todays mediation would bring, it played on my mind for a while, until I fell into my regular daydream of becoming a rich celebrity mediator.
I arrived and was greeted by an efficient receptionist who showed me the rooms that had been allocated; the case itself concerned an alleged breach of contract arising out of a house extension that had not been completed by the defendant building company, as per the contract that had been entered into.
The claim was for £94,000.00, the problem was the claimant and the defendant were brothers. The opening joint session consisted of hostility coupled with mumbling in Punjabi which I will leave to the readers imagination and would not care to translate, I now realize this was not going to be one of my smoother mediations.
Several points were made, counter arguments and questions and further arguments followed, twice I had to stop the parties including their representatives for interrupting the other, and making comments which were not assisting the process.
Ensuring that we had foundations to build our house upon and reaffirming what the purpose of today was, I made it clear that any more outbursts would possibly lead to me terminating the mediation; we had order once more, good time to start the private sessions.
The first private session was held with the claimant, his wife, mother and solicitor, the key contention was the defendant had forced his services upon them; they were all ready to go with a reputable builder, whereby the defendant offered his services cheaper, with the added guarantee for life trust me; I am not an outsider I am your older brother.
The interesting thing with Asian families is this hold that we have over one another; the ethos of Izzart (respect) for ones elders, protocol dictates that you should not question them, even though they may be inherently wrong, this is why the claimant did not raise as many issues with the defendant on site, as he would have done had they not been related.
Things had gone seriously wrong, other family members had become involved, sides had been taken, old grudges and debts had resurfaced, he still owes me 80,000 Rs (£1,000) from 1962 when he came over from the Punjab, shouted the defendant in our first private session.
Lunch came and went, and several private sessions later we were appearing to make head way, both parties cautiously started to negotiate under the guidance of their representatives, the defendant made it quite clear he admitted no liability or foul play but wanted an easy life, and wanted the family members that he had been ostracised by to know he was willing to resolve this, and had not in fact ripped off his younger brother.
Closer and closer to settlement, loose ends being tied up on the way, I suggested as I do in all my mediations now, that issues of key importance be relayed by the parties directly face to face rather than through me, reassuring both sides, we meet jointly, whereby mother interrupts and delivers a powerful yet moving speech in Punjabi which I allow, and translate for their legal counter parts.
Your father was a good hard working man, who raised you both better than this, he would be ashamed to call you his sons if he were alive and saw you fighting over money.
A very deep nerve in both brothers had quite clearly been struck. An hour later we strike a deal, the remedial work according to the receipts and invoices supplied totalled an extra £34,000 than the original contract price of £65,000, I did start to wonder at this point, I digress, of which the defendant reluctantly agreed to pay £20,000.
Whilst the solicitors drafted the mediation agreement, I ask the parties whether they wanted to resume their relationship, unfortunately they declined, and however they did want the other to smooth over the problems that they had experienced with other family members and friends.
19.45, jetting down the M40, I could not help but think how I could have got them talking again, take the commercial element out of all this; it was indeed a family dispute, where 2 brothers had become so bitter they were unable to stand the other.
What else could I have done? As mediators we are there to facilitate and assist parties to negotiate settlements of their disputes, not to impose solutions upon them, I can only hope that my intervention has possibly built a way forward for a future relationship to evolve, hopefully not another contractual relationship though.