In October 2016 the Gibraltar Government passed new Employment Legislation bringing compulsory mediation services into the Employment Tribunal for parties in dispute in an important innovation that they hoped would see some cases settled instead of proceeding to trial. Eight months later, Fiona Young was appointed as the mediator for the Employment Tribunal.
Fiona studied law in Liverpool and had worked in the City of London in the sphere of insurance law before coming to Gibraltar where she joined Hassans Law Firm Litigation team. “I met my husband Peter, a finance lawyer, in law school and he is the one that in 2003 brought us over to Gibraltar initially,” Fiona says. Peter and Fiona returned to the UK where Fiona went back to insurance law and in due course they started a family. “It was at that point, in 2008, when my husband turned round and said to me ‘Gibraltar is home, why are we here?’, that we made the decision to come back,” she explains.
Eventually, although she loved being a mum, Fiona decided that she wanted to do something with her legal experience. “I started working with Amber Turner at her newly established law firm Amber Law,” Fiona states. “We both trained as mediators in 2014, both of us of the mind-set that people needed help, not just legal services but personal support or for someone to listen to them.”
Wanting to spend more time with her children, Fiona decided to take a sabbatical at the end of 2015 and then went on to study at the University of Queen Mary’s Online International Commercial Arbitration programme. “I think it is important to understand that I was struggling to strike a good work life balance, even in a really supportive law firm that was pro-active in enabling mothers to continue their careers in the workplace,” she imparts. “I felt that the litigation practice area wasn’t sympathetic to the needs of a working mum.”
Although her course focused on arbitration, Fiona says that she had the support of some amazing professors from the world of alternative dispute resolution.
Once Fiona had successfully finished the course and obtained her results, she set up on her own as Fiona Young Mediation. “I started to provide training in conflict resolution and managerial skills through local company BC Training, using mediation and my legal background to focus on the issues that people may experience in the workplace or in their lives,” she states. Fiona had also started to get referrals from people who knew what she was doing, asking if she could help them out in certain situations.
Impartiality and neutrality play a huge part in the role of a mediator and while these guidelines must be adhered to, it is down to the mediators themselves to use their mediation experience and skills and, ultimately, their basic human instincts to remain impartial throughout the mediation process. Fiona says that she has enjoyed having all the preconceptions that she had built up as a litigation lawyer ripped away. “Now I go in to the mediation, wherever it is, with no pre-judgement but just to listen and hear and mainly to let the parties vent,” she explains. “Venting is really important, and we use active listening which has been widely recognized as the most important tool of conflict mediation and negotiation, listening to both parties without agenda.”
Fiona outlines how the Employment Tribunal mediation process is implemented in Gibraltar. “The parties will issue proceedings; for instance if somebody has had an unfair dismissal case or they have had constructive dismissal or redundancy.” Their first port of call, after going to a lawyer or union, will be to issue proceedings in the Employment Tribunal after which their employers will put in a response and from there the formal process begins.
“The law says that case should be referred to an independent neutral mediator, which up until a few weeks ago was only me,” Fiona says.
Once Fiona receives the papers sent by the Employment Tribunal, she calls the parties and asks to meet for a coffee, independently of each other. “We make friends and I give each party time to feel confident with me,” Fiona explains. “I hear their story, talk to them about the mediation process and then we set a date for mediation.” This normally takes place in the John Mackintosh Hall and both parties attend, although sometimes they don’t want to see each other. “That is fine and we move heaven and earth to make sure that they are in their comfort zone and that their needs are met, so there is lots of coffee on tap.”
The other thing that Fiona mentions is that it can be very emotive and it is not unusual for a party to shed a tear. “I’m talking about in employment cases, not just on the matrimonial side,” she says. “It’s somebody’s life and they might feel that it is being taken away from them, or they feel misunderstood and that frustration does come through.” It is not just the women who get emotional either.
Fiona now combines her Employment Tribunal work with her own mediation services. “Private companies can ask me to go in to mediate,” she states, “or individuals can contact me directly to mediate for them.”
Far from wanting those in legal circles to think that this is something that is trying to wipe out legal services, Fiona wants to make it clear that this it is meant to go hand in hand and to complement them. “Mediation is actually another string to the lawyer’s bow because the discipline of objectivity and neutrality is so important, and remaining completely neutral can definitely help you see both sides of the story much more clearly.”
“I don’t make a decision for the parties, but I let them talk and I guide them through a set process that enables them to come up with their own decisions, and those situations where they are able to come up with their own decisions are the ones that are most binding and the most powerful,” she says.
“It is just facilitating dialogue and often guiding them away from a lot of red herrings that they have got really hung up on.”
What makes you tick?
What makes you happy: My family; two children, Dylan aged 11, Shadi aged 8, and my husband Peter
What makes you sad: Sad films
Biggest fear: Creepy crawlies
The best place you have been to in the World: The Maldives
Best thing about Gibraltar: The people
Most valuable possession: My home
Hobbies: Watching movies and going to the cinema
Favourite author: Liane Moriarty, author of Big Little Lies, What Alice Forgot and The Husband’s Secret
Favourite film: The Princess Bride
Favourite food: Persian food, Ghormeh Sabzi
Greatest achievement: Going off at 18 years old and doing my gap year in Swaziland where I helped a little boy learn to read at 9 years old. He wrote to me last year to say how that had turned his life around
Regrets: No, because I think that everything that happens to you in life happens for a reason
Something that nobody
generally knows about you: I was a Goth in the 90’s
Motto: No Regrets!