There is considerable debate locally and
internationally over accreditation standards
for mediators and arbitrators (referred to here
as dispute settlement practitioners
At its most basic level accreditation involves
the formal recognition of individuals, organisations
or programmes in a particular profession,
in terms of specified objective standards relating
to qualifications, competence and performance.
While there is a diversity of views in relation to accreditation, the weight of opinion and practice is towards the view that there should be a uniform system of practitioner accreditation. Examples of this can be found in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and many other jurisdictions.
A national uniform system of practitioner accreditation would usually have the following objectives:
the improvement of practitioner knowledge, skills and ethical standards;
the promotion of standards and quality in mediation practice;
the protection of the needs of consumers of mediation services and provision for accountability where they are not met;
the conferring of external recognition to practitioners for their skills and expertise;
the development of consistency and mutual recognition of practitioner training, assessment and accreditation;
a broadening of the credibility and public acceptance of dispute settlement services and practitioners.
In most jurisdictions the need for a uniform national standard became pressing as soon as the use of mediation or arbitration was institutionalised through a government initiative. One example of this is the National Mediation Helpline in the United Kingdom. The UK government has prescribed that, in order to participate in the scheme, mediation organisations must be accredited by the Civil Mediation Council.
3) Voluntary System
The system of standards and accreditation provided by
DiSAC and NABFAM is a voluntary, 'opt-in' system. It is
not a licensing system. This implies that no practitioner
can be forced to apply for accreditation, and that
accreditation is not a requirement for practicing
as a dispute settlement practitioner. Thisapproach
accords with that followed in other jurisdictions.
History has shown though, that the voluntary standard
adopted by the industry soon becomes the de facto standard.
This happens when users of dispute resolution services begin adopting these standards (see, for instance, the example of the UK mediation helpline referred to above).
There is already demand for mediation standards and accreditation in South Africa, particularly in respect of the implementation of mediation in civil disputes in our High Courts and Magistrates Courts, and with family mediations under the Divorce Act and the Children's Act. Government has already indicated a willingness to engage with DiSAC and NABFAM with regard to mediation standards for these projects.