Canterbury Christ Church University’s Mediation Clinic first launched in 2007 and has helped more than 160 people, including businesses, across Kent and Medway.

The Mediation Clinic delivers quality, professional mediation services to the local and wider community for the resolution of a range of civil and commercial disputes including property and workplace issues, as well as offering free student mediation services. It is an alternative route to going to court, to resolve problems and find solutions, with the guidance of an impartial mediator.

Canterbury Christ Church held a mediation clinic awareness event this month at St Martin’s Priory, with local law firms attending. The team also presented at Discovery Park’s monthly Coffee and Connect events, to celebrate existing work across the community, and to introduce individuals and businesses to its mediation service.

Ben Waters, accredited mediator, solicitor, and Principal Lecturer in Law at the University, founded the Mediation Clinic, which is the first of its kind to be based within a UK university. Ben spent 20 years as a litigation solicitor before joining academia, dealing with disputes ranging from construction to personal injury.

He said: “I have seen people totally broken by litigation. Losing literally everything in order to try to win their case. Because people in conflict are coming together, mediation can often be a very emotional experience; however, with the right kind of guidance from a trained third-party neutral mediator, disputes can be resolved with respect on both sides. This differs from litigation, which is a competitive gamble; there are only winners and losers in a court room and sometimes the stakes for losing can be very high”.

“A mediator can ask far more searching questions than could be answered in open court. They can get to the underlying cause of a dispute, which may not always be immediately apparent and can sometimes encourage people to understand, or at least see the other’s point of view

Ben Waters, Principal Lecturer in Law, presenting at the Mediation Clinic awareness event
Ben Waters, Principal Lecturer in Law, presenting at the Mediation Clinic awareness event

The Mediation Clinic is also a resource for Law students at the University as students can link the work of the clinic to their curriculum and gain valuable skills by learning first-hand how to mediate and resolve disputes.

With the parties’ consent, students can sit in on the mediation sessions, prepare the cases and reflect on the outcomes. Law students, who have taken the mediation skills module have acted as mediators to help other students resolve their disputes.

Eloise Jones, graduated from Christ Church with a First Class Honours in Law last year and co-mediated a student-related dispute.

Being involved in the Mediation Clinic has been a truly unique and valuable opportunity as a student at the University. To utilise my theoretical knowledge of alternative dispute resolution in a real-life dispute has truly elevated my confidence in becoming an accredited mediator in my future legal career.

Eloise Jones, Law graduate

A team of final year Law students hosted the UK Student Mediation Competition this year at the North Holmes Road campus, winning fifth place out of 17 teams competing. In 2020 students came first place and won the national competition which was held at the University of Glasgow.

Emma Palmer, Family Lawyer at Whitehead Monkton who attended the mediation clinic event, explained the benefits of using mediation to resolve issues.

‘I did not know anything about the mediation clinic here at Canterbury Christ Church University and as I don’t do civil and commercial law. From my perspective it was really interesting to learn about how it works. From a family lawyers’ perspective, the benefit of mediation is that it gives clients the opportunity to resolve their disputes in a neutral environment, away from the stresses of the court room and invariably come to a decision that works for both of them without having it imposed upon themselves.’

Nick Fairweather at Fairweather Solicitors is also president of Kent Law Society and has worked with the University’s mediation clinic. He said: ‘There are lots of benefits in terms of accessibility, cost efficiency, empowerment and the courts being so busy as well.

‘What I find with mediation is that when you talk about empowerment it gives the participants ownership of the event and the outcome which you just don’t get given in court.’

‘People have this perception that they want their day in court and they imagine it’s going to be some brilliant, victorious outcome and that’s very seldom it, and in fact going to court people can be quite disempowered because it all goes over to the lawyers - they’re a little bit marginalised, whereas if you’re there with the help of a mediator, actually having your input and step-by-step building an agreement you’ll have real ownership of that agreement and it’s more likely that that agreement will stand up.’

Solutions found through mediation can also be much more creative, rather than the restrictive remedies available in court, which in the context of a civil claim generally result in an award of compensatory damages for the successful party.