15 October 2018
Non-Cantonese speakers face a language barrier during the "Mediation Week". Photo: GovHK
Non-Cantonese speakers face a language barrier during the "Mediation Week". Photo: GovHK

How the govt ruined my hopes for ‘Mediation Week’

“Mediation” is a word calculated to warm the hearts of the judiciary. It is defined as “intervention in a dispute in order to resolve it”.

In the expanding world of “alternative dispute resolution”, mediation is the least expensive and least confrontational in alternatives to a judicial determination.

Some cynics might suggest that the reason why judges welcome mediation is because it reduces their workload. However, the fact is that for certain categories of disputes, particularly those related to families, a mediated resolution is indisputably preferable.

There is still an active debate about the utility of mediation in relation to other types of dispute.

To promote discussion on the subject, Hong Kong’s Department of Justice and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council are jointly organizing an industry event dubbed Mediation Week 2016. The conference, with the theme “Mediate First – Advance with the Times”, will see participation of professionals drawn from around the world.

As part of the week-long forum, the justice department also prorogued an event entitled “Medical Mediation Scheme: A Feasibility Discussion”.

The event will see speeches given by six luminaries: Sophie Chan, Under Secretary for Food & Health; Dr. Ludwig Tsoi, chairman of the Hong Kong Society for Healthcare Mediation; Prof. Joseph Lau, chairman of the Medical Council; Dr. Choi Kin, chairman of the Investigation Committee; Cecilia Wong, chairperson of the Mediation Committee of the Law Society; and Tim Pang of the Society for Community Organisation.

Invitations were extended to members of the Hong Kong Bar Association. The event schedule and reply slip, all in English, made no mention of the discussion being in any language. The reply slip stated: “Please fill in the form in English”.

Given my own field of specialization, I registered to attend the discussion.

Only at 10.15 am on Monday, was I “reminded” that the proceedings would be conducted in Cantonese. I went through all the communications again and discovered that a confirmation of registration email said “Language: Cantonese”.

The fact is that once I received a confirmation email I did not scan it further and thus missed the only reference to Cantonese. All the publicity and invitation material, which was in English, gave no indication whatsoever that Cantonese would be the medium for the discussion.

As the speakers are all entirely fluent in English, it defies sense for the discussion to be conducted so as to exclude non-Cantonese speakers. There was no indication of an instantaneous translation service to be provided, so I did not go but sent a nasty email to which I have not had a response.

This government has an appalling habit of ignoring the non-Cantonese speaking segment of the community, and this is a particularly tiny minded exercise in discrimination.

A significant percentage of Hong Kong’s lawyers and doctors, all of whom have a direct interest in the subject matter of this discussion, are non-Cantonese speaking.

Inasmuch as the “Discussion” was a precursor to the Mediation Conference, it is inconceivable that the Secretary for Justice who is the host of the conference and whose Mediation Team organized the events was ignorant of the pointless and offensive decision to exclude non-Cantonese speakers from the discussion.

There are important issues to be considered when approaching the idea of mediation as a dispute resolution mechanism in the medical/clinical field. As a person with many years practical experience I had hoped to make an informed contribution.

The justice secretary’s bigoted village mentality is wholly inconsistent with Hong Kong’s standing as an international center for legal dispute resolution. Can you imagine Singapore hosting such a discussion in Malay?

One can only hope that the Department of Justice will realize that the type of parochial exclusivity displayed by it won’t do Hong Kong any good.

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Queen's Counsel

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