Mediation fails Rinehart family; or does it?

After 2 years in the NSW Supreme Court, and less than 2 weeks prior to the trial, the dispute over the Hope Margaret Hancock family trust was (finally) referred to mediation by order of Justice Patricia Bergin. The trial, which had been scheduled to commence on 1 October was pushed back to 8 October, with an estimate of 5 or more days.

Had mediation been attempted earlier in the dispute, voluntarily and without the added pressure of an imminent court date, it may have succeeded. A case such as this, with all its family history and (alleged) financial complexity requires more  than a one-day mediation. The mediator must be given the luxury of time to explore all parties’ interests, and help them find common ground. I have little doubt that at least one person around that mediation table’s behaviour could be described as high conflict . If that was the case, additional time would have allowed the mediator to manage those behaviours and re-engage the parties’ Logical Left Brains rather than their Relationship Right brains (which I wrote about last month).

The Australian newspaper’s Leo Shanahan reported that the mediation had been unsuccessful, and that Rinehart was “pulling out” of the litigation. The lawyers for the remaining litigants, Rinehart’s children, requested the matter be referred to a further mediation to negotiate who should be appointed as the new trustee.

Yesterday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that as the trial was due to get underway, Rinehart’s son John Hancock also withdrew as prospective trustee and nominated his sister, Bianca, instead. This was not immediately agreed to by their sister, Ginia Rinehart, who wishes to consider the proposal.

What conclusions can we draw from this “Real Life Dynasty”? Well, although we can never know what went on in those mediation rooms, I like to think that the mediation process helped the Hancock-Rinehart family to reflect on which issues in dispute truly mattered, how they would like their future to be, and what concessions they were willing to make in order to create that future; in other words, the process helped them to quiet their noisy, Relationship Right Brains, and to hear their Logical Left Brains. If such shifts in thinking did occur during and after the mediation sessions, then in my book, that is success.


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