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  • Anushree Jha

Alternate Dispute Resolution:- The Mediation Act, 2023: A Critique and Analysis

Anushree Jha,

University of Mumbai- Thane Sub-campus.

Alternate Dispute Resolution:- The Mediation Act, 2023

Introduction:-

Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms have gained prominence and increased attention in recent years in India as legal systems seek efficient ways to resolve conflicts. On September 15, 2023, The Indian government made a landmark move aimed at transforming the landscape of dispute resolution by introducing the Mediation Act of 2023 extending to the whole of India. Some parts of the Act came into enforcement on October 9, 2023.[1] This critical piece of legislation aims to promote and regulate the use of mediation as an alternative method for resolving conflicts, offering parties a more collaborative and cost-effective approach compared to traditional court litigation. According to its bare act, “This crucial piece of legislation has been made in order to promote and facilitate mediation, especially institutional mediation, for the resolution of disputes, commercial or otherwise, enforce mediated settlement agreements, provide for a body for the registration of mediators, to encourage community mediation and to make online mediation as acceptable and cost-effective process and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”[2].

In simple words, The Mediation Act of 2023 marks a significant legislative initiative aimed at promoting mediation as a viable means of dispute resolution by enhancing the process and making it more efficient and amicable[3]. Its enactment represents a significant stride towards institutionalizing mediation as a more common method to be pursued for dispute resolution. This has been held as a progressive step in India’s recent legislatures, said to be poised to revolutionize the way legal disputes are settled in the country.[4] According to various intellectuals, It aims to encourage community, online and institutional mediation, its enforcement in domestic mediated agreements and to make online mediation an acceptable and cost-effective process.

 This comprehensive research article undertakes a critical examination of the Mediation Act, delving into its features, implications, significance, evolution and potential impact on the legal landscape in order to understand it in some more detail.

Mediation is a speedy and cost-effective method of Alternative Dispute Resolution [ADR][5] which is known to provide access to justice to various kinds of disputing parties. Various available sources on the subject already explore how, when appropriately implemented, mediation can alleviate the strain on formal courts, providing a more accessible and cost-effective avenue for dispute resolution to people in India.

Definition and Scope of the Act:- 

The Mediation Act, of 2023 provides a comprehensive definition of mediation and clearly outlines its scope to all mediations that occur in India. Mediation, in the context of this legislation, is defined as a voluntary process where an impartial and neutral third party facilitates communication between disputing parties to assist them in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement[6]. The scope of the Act has been explicitly stated. There are certain exclusions involving cases which include criminal offences or matters where public policy considerations take precedence[7].

Applicability of the Act:-

The Act only applies to mediations conducted in India, and: where all, or both, parties reside/are incorporated/have their place of business in India;  or the mediation agreement provides for the disputes thereunder to be resolved by the Act; or where there is an international mediator; or commercial disputes where the central / state government is a party; or any other dispute notified subsequently.[8] 

Objectives of the Mediation Act, 2023[9]:- 

The primary objectives of the Act include:-

1.Promoting Efficiency:- The Act aims to streamline the resolution process to save time and resources.

2.Encouraging Collaboration:- Fostering an environment where parties can work together to find mutually beneficial solutions.

3.Reducing Court Backlog:- Easing the burden on the judicial system by diverting suitable cases to mediation. 

Key Features Of The Act[10]:-

The key provisions of the Act are listed below:-

·Mediation Agreement:- The legislation introduces the concept of a mediation agreement that outlines the terms agreed upon by the parties involved in the mediation process. A mediator is a person who is appointed to undertake mediation – (a) by the parties or (b) by a mediation service provider[11]. This includes a person registered as a mediator with the Mediation Council of India. Under the Act, Mediation is defined expansively to include any process where parties request a third person (mediator) to assist them in reaching an amicable settlement.[12]

·Mandatory Mediation:- The Mediation Act mandates mediation for certain disputes. Parties involved in specific cases must attempt mediation before proceeding to court litigation. This provision reflects a proactive approach to dispute resolution and aims to alleviate the burden on the courts.

·The Regulator:- The central government will establish the Mediation Council of India as per the constitution prescribed under the Act.[13] The Council has been constituted to register, recognize and regulate mediation institutions and mediators in India.

·Process Of Accreditation of Mediators:- The Act establishes a regulatory system for the accreditation and certification of mediators and mediation institutions. The Act outlines the qualifications, training requirements, and ethical standards that individuals must meet to be recognized as accredited mediators. Sections 8 through 12 of the Act provide for the qualifications and oversight of mediators.[14] Additionally, it accommodates the parties' preferences regarding the mediator's identity and appointment procedure. Unless the agreement between the parties provides otherwise, a mediator must be registered with the Mediation Council or be empanelled with (a) a court-annexed mediation centre; (b) an authority constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987; or (c) a mediation service provider. [15]This ensures a high level of professionalism, credibility and competence within the mediation.

·Confidentiality and Privilege:- The Act includes provisions to protect the privacy of communications during the mediation process. No mediator (or participant including experts and advisers) will at any time be permitted, or compelled to disclose to any court, tribunal, or in any adjudicatory proceedings, any communication, contents, conditions or any information with which they have been acquainted during the mediation[16]. This confidentiality clause is expected to foster a safe environment of trust, encouraging open and honest dialogue between disputing parties, without the fear of legal consequences.

·Court-Annexed Mediation:- The Act recognizes the need for legal integration of Mediation. Thus, It provides for court-annexed mediation. Courts have the authority to refer cases to mediation, and parties are encouraged to explore mediation before pursuing traditional litigation. This approach is designed to reduce the burden on the courts and expedite the resolution of disputes.[17]

·Enforcement of the Mediation:- The Mediation Act includes provisions for the enforcement of mediated settlements. It will be enforceable in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908[18]. The mediated agreement, once approved by the court, becomes a legally binding and enforceable document akin to a court judgment after a settlement is reached.

·Cost Incentives:- To incentivize parties to opt for mediation, the legislation incorporates provisions related to cost implications. Successful mediation may result in cost benefits for the parties involved, including reduced court fees and other related expenses. This economic incentive is designed to make mediation an attractive option for individuals and businesses seeking a more cost-effective means of dispute resolution.

·Time period of Mediation Act, 2023:- Section 18 of the Act provides that mediation proceedings must be completed within 120 days from the date of the first appearance or for an extended time frame of 180 days if agreed upon by the parties[19].

·Costs for Mediation:- Unless otherwise agreed by the parties, all costs of mediation, including the fees of the mediator and the charges of the mediation service provider will be borne equally by the parties[20].

Alternate Dispute Resolution:- The Mediation Act, 2023

Benefits and Implications Of the Act:-

There are numerous benefits of the Act. Some of them are given below:-

1. Speedy and Cost-Effective Resolution:- The most significant advantage of the Act is its focus on expeditious dispute resolution by laying down a time-bound procedure for conducting mediation in India; by incorporating mandatory mediation in certain cases, aiming to significantly reduce the time taken to resolve disputes compared to traditional court proceedings. By diverting cases away from lengthy court processes, parties can also save tons of resources, making mediation an attractive option for businesses and individuals alike[21].

2.  Preservation of Relationships:- Mediation promotes collaboration and communication unlike adversarial litigation forms, which often strain relationships between parties in a court setting. Further, The confidentiality provisions in the Act contribute to creating a safe space for parties to discuss their concerns openly, fostering a spirit of cooperation and preserving relationships[22].

3.  Judicial System Relief:- By diverting certain disputes to mediation, the Mediation Act is expected to alleviate the strain on the Indian judicial system[23]. With court dockets often overcrowded and cases backlogged, the promotion of alternative dispute resolution methods, particularly mediation, aligns with global trends towards more efficient and accessible justice systems[24].

4. Flexibility and Customization:- The Act recognizes the diverse nature of disputes and provides parties with the flexibility to tailor the mediation process to their specific needs[25]

Conclusion:-

The Mediation Act of 2023 represents a commendable effort to institutionalize and regulate mediation as an alternative mechanism of dispute resolution in India. Its introduction is truly a significant moment for the Indian legal landscape in the realm of Alternative Dispute Resolution in tune with the ever-evolving needs of society.[26] By prioritizing mediation as a viable, primary and mandatory alternative to traditional court litigation to resolve disputes, the legislation reflects a commitment to fostering a more efficient, cost-effective, and collaborative approach to resolving conflicts.[27] The Act signals a commitment to more efficient and collaborative dispute-resolution methods by establishing clear standards, enhancing confidentiality, offering incentives, and ensuring enforceability, this legislation has definitely reshaped the mediation process in India[28].

In conclusion, the success of the Mediation Act of 2023 relies on its ability to strike a balance between flexibility and clarity, encouraging the widespread adoption of mediation while maintaining legal integrity through effective mediation training, robust accreditation processes, and ongoing efforts to raise awareness about the benefits of this alternative approach to dispute resolution.[29] 

References

[1] Mediation Act Notified, AZB (Oct. 19, 2023)

[2]The Gazette of India, The Mediation Act, 2023 (15th Sep 2023)

[3] Will the Mediation Act, 2023 Change the Way Parties Resolve Disputes?, BusinessLine (Oct. 10, 2023)

[4] Mediation Act, 2023: Easing Judiciary Workload, Drishti IAS (27 Sep 2023)

[5] Banerjee S., Advantages of Choosing Mediation as a Method of Dispute Resolution in India, iPleaders (29 Jan 2022)

[6] Mediation and Conciliation Project Committee Supreme Court of India, Mediation (June 2015)

[7] Nishith Desai Associates, Decoding the Mediation Act, 2023 (4 September 2023)

[8] Mediation Act, 2023-Section Wise Bare Act, IBC Laws (14 Oct 2023)

[9]Madhur, The Mediation Act 2023: Facilitating Conflict Resolution in the Modern Era, Karanjawala & Co. (12 Oct2023).

[10] Nair, D., Sahni, V., & Sharma, R., Mediation Act, 2023: Salient Features, Lexology (20 Sept 2023)

[11] The Gazette of India, The Mediation Act, 2023 (15th Sep 2023)

[12] Aaushi Doshi and Neeli Sandesara; Framework of the Mediation Act 2023, IndiaLaw LLP  (25 Oct 2023)

[13] Mediation Act Notified, AZB (19 Oct 2023)

[14] Attorneys, L. & S., What, How, Where, When And Why Of The Mediation Act, 2023, Arbitration & Dispute Resolution - India (25 Sept 2023)

[15] Nair, D., Sahni, V., & Sharma, R., Mediation Act, 2023: Salient Features, Lexology (20 Sept 2023)

[16] Wassan Shukla, Decoding The Mediation Act 2023, BWlegalworld (5 Oct 2023)

[17] Rohan Sharma, Breaking Down the Mediation Bill 2023: Critical Features, FICL (16 Sept 2023)

[18] Section 27 of Mediation Act, 2023-Enforcement of Mediated Settlement Agreement, IBC Laws (23 Sept 2023)

[19] Bhavya Verma, India’s Mediation Act of 2023, Asia IP (8 Dec 2023)

[20] The Gazette of India, The Mediation Act, 2023 (15th Sep 2023)

[21] Nandini Gore, The Mediation Act 2023: Facilitating Conflict Resolution In The Modern Era, Arbitration & Dispute Resolution - India (2 Oct 2023)

[22] BimaKavach., Mediation: An Effective Alternative for Resolving Disputes, BimaKavach (30 Nov 2023)

[23] Why India’s Mediation Act 2023 is a Great Leap Forward, Mediate.com (14 Nov 2023)

[24] Amit Bansal, Shruti Gupta; Will the Mediation Act, 2023 Change the Way Parties Resolve Disputes?, BusinessLine (10 Oct 2023)

[25] PRS Legislative Research ;The Mediation Bill, 2021 (n.d.)

[26] Justice R S Chauhan; Why the Mediation Act 2023 is a Great Leap Forward, Moneycontrol (14 Nov 2023)

[27] PTI,  Mediation Act a Watershed Moment in Indian Legal Landscape: Justice Hima Kohli, Deccan Herald (23 Sept 2023)

[28] TNN, Mediation Law Kicks In, to Help Trim Judicial Caseload, The Times of India (17 Sept 2023)

[29] Amit Bansal, Shruti Gupta; Will the Mediation Act, 2023 Change the Way Parties Resolve Disputes?, BusinessLine (10 Oct 2023)

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