Mediation is a process whereby an independent, neutral person assists the parties in dispute to reach a settlement.
In most cases a settlement is reached. A very high percentage of mediations are successful on the day and, of those that are not, many are settled shortly afterwards.
There are other reasons for mediating. Large savings in cost, time and stress can be achieved. Mediation can be arranged very quickly so a dispute can be resolved in a matter of weeks or less, the costs of a mediation are relatively small, and the process is not confrontational in the same way as direct negotiations and court hearings. Having said that, mediation involves hard work.
In view of the flexibility of the process, mediation allows and encourages parties to consider, discuss and agree a large number of possible solutions which are not available through the courts. As a solution is consensual, it is far more likely to satisfy both parties than a judgment of the court.
During the mediation, which will not normally exceed one day, there may be sessions with all parties represented as well as private sessions between the mediator and just one party.
Until a binding agreement is reached each side is free to walk away. If no agreement is reached, the basic rule (to which there are limited exceptions) is that nothing said in the mediation can be used in court proceedings or for any other purpose. Similar, though slightly different, rules apply to documents.
It is not surprising that in recent years the government and the courts have strongly encouraged parties to mediate rather than litigate and the courts have imposed costs sanctions on those who have unreasonably refused to mediate.