Neighbour agreements to be bound by law

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by StreetCorner Staff

People who resolve disputes through the NSW Government’s free community mediation service will soon be able to choose to make their agreements legally enforceable.

“Free community mediation services are fast growing in popularity because they are a faster, more efficient way of resolving disputes without the need to go to court,” Attorney General John Hatzistergos said.

“The growth in demand for the services has corresponded with calls for parties to be able to make the agreements legally binding.” The NSW Government will today introduce laws to allow the agreements to be legally enforceable, should both parties agree. Under existing laws, the agreements can only be made in ‘good faith’.

“While the terms of agreements are generally honoured by the parties, Community Justice Centres have reported an increasing demand from parties, particularly in court-ordered mediations, to make an agreement that could be enforced in court if necessary.”

The amendments will remove the current bar in the Community Justice Centres Act preventing enforcement. Parties will now have the option of reaching an agreement which, if necessary, could be enforced in court. “The new option will improve the effectiveness of Community Justice Centres and broaden their appeal, particularly to parties who are seeking a legally enforceable resolution but don’t want to go to court,” Mr Hatzistergos said.

Department of Justice and Attorney General figures show the free mediation service, often used by neighbours to resolve disputes, are rapidly growing in popularity.

In 2009/10, NSW Community Justice Centres opened files in relation to almost 5,000 disputes, up more than 60% from 3,000 last year.

The centres conducted a total of 1725 mediations in the 2009/10 year, a 7% increase on last year's figures of 1612. Of those mediations, 81% resulted in an agreement, up from 79% last year.

“The settlement rate of more than 80 per cent is exceptional and I would like to commend the professionalism of the staff of the Community Justice Centres around NSW,” Mr Hatzistergos said. Mr Hatzistergos said the amendments are consistent with the NSW State Plan objective of reducing anti-social behaviour.

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