Culture and Ethics in Mediation

Dr Lola Akin Ojelabi1

1 School of Law, La Trobe University, Kingsbury Drive, Bundoora, Melbourne VIC 3086

Cultural differences may become an issue in mediation in many respects. There may be cultural differences as between the parties and the mediators (party/mediator cultural differences); cultural differences as between parties (inter-party cultural differences); cultural differences which lead to inner conflicts for one party (intra-party cultural differences) and between parties and the process of mediation (party/process cultural differences). Drawing from empirical research, this paper presents an analysis of mediators’ approach to managing cultural differences in a mediation process. While the National Mediator Accreditation System, Practice Standards promote the value of self-determination and require that the mediator remain neutral in relation to content and refrain from providing advice or information to parties, it also requires that mediators take steps to address power imbalances and determine when a proposed term of settlement is unconscionable in order to determine when termination would be appropriate. This paper discusses, within this ethical landscape, issues that may arise in mediating a dispute involving cultural differences either between parties or between the parties and the mediator. It seeks to answer the following questions: How should a mediator respond to ethical dilemmas that arise based on cultural differences between the mediator and the parties? How should a mediator respond when parties make decisions that conflict with the mediator’s values without exhibiting cultural supremacy? What approach can be taken by the mediator in supporting self-determination when cultural beliefs conflict with the principle of self-determination?


Lola Akin Ojelabi is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Law, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. Her research is in the field of conflict/dispute resolution including on DR processes and access to justice for disadvantaged groups and individuals and ethics and justice in DR practice. Lola was involved in research project evaluating the Broadmeadows Family Relationship Centre for cultural appropriateness and addressing family violence in Family Dispute Resolution. Lola is also interested in the role of international law in promoting global peace and justice. She has researched on the impact of culture on conflict and conflict resolution and how underlying values of the United Nations’ Charter may assist with resolution of seemingly intractable conflicts. This research resulted in the development of a framework for conflict resolution. Lola conducts professional development workshops on culture and conflict resolution and ethics in DR practice

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The Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration (AIJA) is a research and educational institute associated with Monash University. It is funded by the Law, Crime and Community Safety Council (LCCSC) and also from subscription income from its membership.

The principal objectives of the Institute include research into judicial administration and the development and conduct of educational programmes for judicial officers, court administrators and members of the legal profession in relation to court administration and judicial systems.

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