At long last, the Lord Chief Justice has mentioned the unmentionable and laid on a 24-hour judicial helpline that will help stressed-out dispute deciders sleep more soundly at night
Help! I need a social worker. I spend all day and every day falling out with people. Put me in a room with two people and before long one of them wants to marmalise me, the other wants to cuddle me. Put me in a room with 20 people and soon half love me, half loathe me. Dear kindly social worker, understand me. I am a dispute decider and I don’t get the love that every dispute decider ought to get.
The Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Phillips, is in the same boat. He has got himself a social worker. Now if that’s good enough for the most senior judge on the block, it’s good enough for little old dispute deciders like yours truly. He has organised a 24-hour-a-day judicial helpline, available every day, all year. Because judging is a lonely job.
Sometimes in the dead of night we dispute deciders feel the urge to jump out of bed, leave our loved ones behind, dash down the road to a red telephone box and phone a counsellor. It’s the 2am shift: an overwhelming need to discuss the case of Donoghue & Stevenson, Hadley & Baxendale or even talk dirty – words like promissory estoppel. Here I am in a telephone box in my jim-jams and I can’t find button A nor the four pence needed to make the call. We construction dispute deciders need help.
You don’t believe any of this, do you? But it’s true. The Lord Chief Justice really has twigged. His 1,400 judges across the land are coming out of the closet and beginning to mention the unmentionable: stress.
There is a heck of a lot of stress being the bloke in the middle trying to resolve a dispute between two or more folk who have convinced themselves they are right, that the other side are shysters and that there’s no way those so-and-sos can win. Then, heaven help us, this idiot, this buffoon in the middle who is supposed to hold the scales of justice, decides that the other side has won.
Fury isn’t the word; it is incandescent, white-hot anger. And every judge, arbitrator and adjudicator knows it’s going to happen. He knows before anyone else that in a minute or two, when the decision, award or judgment is delivered, the fun really starts.
There is a heck of a lot of stress being the bloke in the middle trying to resolve a dispute between folk who have convinced themselves they are right
Let me try to give you an idea what it’s like refereeing and adjudicating a building industry dispute. An award is decided by identifying each and every quarrel. Then the arguments on each quarrel are read and re-read. Then the dispute decider decides which arguments are more convincing.
By the time I get to the 50th quarrel and 50th decision, I begin to see how it is all coming out. And I begin to mutter to myself: “Oh dear, this party is not going to like this outcome one jot.” Then I hear my voice doing more muttering: “This decision will cause a stir”; “I bet there will be fall-out from all this”; “I bet this lot will complain.”
In the past 11 months, the Lord Chief Justice tells me there have been 1,300 complaints about “daft” judicial decisions or behaviour. People complain, the press publishes.
What’s to be done when a decision maker like me is in the middle of adjudicating and sees it all heading in the direction of trouble? Dash to the red telephone box and – yes, you’ve got it – press button A for the social worker. Then I can pour my heart out: the decision is coming out against a party that will become a post-award bloody nuisance. I am heading towards a complaint, but actually I am a nice guy.
The social worker takes me in hand. She talks me through the stress and gives me backbone. “There, there,” she coos.
Soon, I’m not standing in a telephone box in my pyjamas any more. I have the strength to go back to my award and publish and be damned. I have identified the bullies and the troublemakers and made a list of names with my social worker. She is the one that helps a hapless decision maker like me recognise and make those nasty, unpopular decisions.
So, the unmentionable topic is out of the closet: I need a social worker. And as for the bullies, perhaps you need a social worker too – or perhaps simply a thick ear.
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator. Read his regular blog at www.building.co.uk/blogs