Finality: getting that long-running dispute to end

Never again?

Jarndyce v. Jarndyce ?

For the individual, student or employee, a dispute with a university or further education college can become all-consuming. It can take over a life. It can create an obsession.

A dispute can pile up in a tide of papers and on the desks of administrators and managers and fill their inboxes. It can destroy the peace of mind of those complained against as much as the complainants themselves.

There are many resolutions and outcomes which cannot be achieved by an adversarial process, however fairly conducted, especially where a dispute has gone beyond a certain point of complexity and delay has made certain outcomes impossible.

The further it all goes the harder it becomes to find a way out which will be fair and repair some of the damage and give everyone a sense of finality. In the examples on this website it is often difficult to see what anyone was to do once things had reached a certain stage, though the dispute could have been prevented from reaching that stage.

Those involved often find it hard to realise that following an adversarial procedure may not lead to ‘getting justice’. There are many resolutions and outcomes which cannot be achieved by an adversarial process, however fairly conducted, especially where a dispute has gone beyond a certain point of complexity and delay has made certain outcomes impossible.

Yet a sense of having been treated fairly and having received an acceptable decision can be surprisingly easy to achieve for all concerned if things do not go wrong at the outset. Mediators often describe the moment when an institution says perhaps it could look at the way it does things to avoid this happening to anyone else and the student or employee gives a relieved smile and says that in that case he or she will not be pressing for all those sackings and all that compensation.

Advice for institutions on preventing disputes

Institutional culture-change could save time and effort in trouble-shooting and fire-fighting by making it less likely that disputes will begin

Good principles make for good practice – but only if they are followed

  • For ‘systemic’ ground-rules which can help to ensure that disputes in your institution are less likely to arise and that you can deal with them quickly and fairly if they do, see the pages  in this main section on Fairness and the Ground-rules which follow
  • If you are involved in a dispute as a manager, student or employee and want to see what to do step by step, see Individuals section
  • If you are trying to get your bearings in a particular situation look at Your Stories by topic, or type your keywords into ‘Search’

Resources

…the proceedings……should never have been started in the first place. There was a failure of management. Once the formal process has started the machinery grinds on relentlessly.
It is impossible to generalise about the quality of decision-making and the sanctions imposed on those found guilty of professional or other misconduct, yet thousands of cases are apparently decided fairly by the Employment Tribunals every year. The difference is that they are presided over by independent and skilled lawyers. By contrast, I have often felt that the approach of disciplinary bodies within the professions and the academic world has been distorted by self importance, leading to excessive censoriousness, exaggerating the trivial, withholding compassion and understanding, and putting institutional loyalty ahead of justice to the individual. There is no substitute for independent and trained judges.

Geoffrey Bindman, ‘Why do lay judges get it wrong?160 New Law Journal 1232.

See:

Achieving finality: when to call it quits