It is likely no coincidence that self-determination is listed as the first standard in the Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators (“the Model Standards”). The Model Standards were designed to “…serve as fundamental ethical guidelines for persons mediating in all practice contexts.” Self-determination is not just a discretionary academic principle: a mediator is required to conduct a mediation based on this principle and this principle applies at any stage of the mediation, “including mediator selection, process design, participation in or withdrawal from the process, and outcomes.”
Self-determination is defined by the Model Standards as “…the act of coming to a voluntary uncoerced decision in which each party makes free and informed choices as to process and outcome”. A mediator is still allowed, however, to conduct a “quality process” in accordance with the Model Standards and the parties are to be reminded of the “…importance of consulting other professionals to help them [the parties] make informed choices”. The professionals often consulted and relied upon to help the parties make informed choices are most often the lawyers representing them in the matter.
The fact that mediation is not about the mediator is underscored in the last portion of Section I of the Model Standards. Self-determination may not be undermined for reasons such as “…higher settlement rates, egos, increased fees, or outside pressures from court personnel, program administrators, provider organizations, the media or others.” Mediation is about the parties, not the mediator.