Recently I posted a blog on the subject of people telling the truth – or not. When writing it, I looked at the issue of the difference between fact and opinion.

People often blur the two. Phrases that are routinely used in everyday conversation such as “what a lovely day it is today” are expressed authoritatively as fact whereas they are expressions of opinion. Some people may think of “day” in terms of daylight whereas others may be working on the basis of a 24-hour clock. The person who refers to “today” may have got the days mixed up. Another person may equate “lovely” with classic British autumnal weather whereas somebody else may use this word in the context of bright Mediterranean sunshine.

Because we tend to blur the distinction between facts and opinion and in so doing allow elements of either conscious or unconscious bias to influence our thought processes and may not trouble to either listen or ask the right questions, the point of something may be completely missed. Because of this we are often guilty of not standing back and either ascertaining what other people’s points of view are and equally, what the basic facts or issues are.

With these thoughts in mind I recall a 1970s public information film, back in the days of grainy black-and-white poor-quality TV pictures which was made by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).  The short film starts with a view of two men approaching one another along a stretch of pavement. One is an eminently respectable-looking elderly gentleman wearing a suit carrying a briefcase. The other is a rather large looking young man with a Mohican haircut, camouflage trousers and rather muscular looking arms. After a few seconds viewers note that the young man starts to run down the pavement at some speed towards the elderly gentleman with a very determined some would say hostile look on his face. In the next few frames the city gent becomes noticeably more and more alarmed and when the young man is seen to make a dive towards him with his hands outstretched and apparently directed towards the briefcase, it looks as if his worst fears have been realised and that he is about to become the victim of a robbery.

At the point that the young man’s outstretched hands are only millimetres away from the briefcase, the film freezes and a voice-over explains the purpose of the ASA and emphasises that things are not always what they seem.

Subsequently the viewers discover the elderly gentleman was walking past a building site and that unbeknown to him somebody has dropped a brick that looks as if it may very well hit a woman who was walking behind him on the head. It then becomes apparent that what the young man was doing was diving to save the woman from injury and quite coincidentally, the elderly gentleman’s briefcase which went flying was quite coincidentally in his path.

In the context of their everyday dealings, people all too often miss the critical last frame. Deductions are made and people such as the innocent and very well-intentioned young man may be seen as disreputable, criminal or worse while the elderly gentleman may well have been classed as a victim.

The primary role of all courts and tribunals is not just to apply the law but also to find facts and in many instances they do so quite successfully. However, the attendant processes can be long and complicated. Trials often take place months or years after the events at which point, particularly if diligent enquiries were not made in the first place, memories can become strained and testimonies unreliable. The whole process of giving evidence can be very stressful and given that the different “sides” are seeking to establish the correctness of their version of events, there may be a risk that questions are directed accordingly and that matters may not be looked at in the round.

ASM PLUS will generally be able to arrange mediations and facilitated meetings which whilst people’s memories are still fresh and any necessary further enquiries can be conducted quite easily. Mediators and facilitators are not bound by complicated rules of evidence and they encourage parties to not only express themselves candidly and objectively but to listen to what others have to say and to think critically. This in turn ensures that all concerned get a fair hearing, that everyone has an opportunity to reflect and address matters objectively, and ultimately confirm that the phrase “truth will out” is not simply a piece of homespun philosophy. The fact that mediations and facilitated meetings have excellent success rates and cost a fraction of what it takes to pursue a matter through the courts is an added bonus.