If I was being interviewed by a journalist from one of the Sunday supplements and asked to identify my mediation related highlight of 2018, I would unhesitatingly highlight the apology by the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern and the expression of regret by a judge, both of which were recently given to the family of a young English tourist who was tragically murdered.
The New Zealand police investigation that followed this tragic event appears to have been conducted very efficiently and not long after, the alleged assailant was arrested, charged and brought before the Auckland District Court for a preliminary hearing.
People in the UK and New Zealand were stunned and shocked. Recognising the enormity of what has happened, Ms Ardern unhesitatingly issued her public, heartfelt apology during which she visibly fought back tears.
The New Zealand PM said that there was a collective feeling of shame in the South Pacific nation over the fate of the young woman, whose body had been found in dense bushland. She said: –
“There is this overwhelming sense of hurt and shame that this has happened in our country, a place that prides itself on our hospitality, on our manaakitanga,” she said, using the Māori word for welcoming others.
So, on behalf of New Zealand, I want to apologise to Grace’s family – your daughter should have been safe here and she wasn’t, and I’m sorry for that.”
The PM also told reporters that New Zealanders were heartbroken for the deceased’s family and were feeling her death personally.
This heartfelt apology had been preceded by a statement made by the Judge who presided at the initial hearing. Addressing the family, Judge Thomas said: –
“All of us hope that justice for Grace is fair, swift and ultimately brings you some peace. I don’t know what we can say to you at this time – your grief must be desperate.”
Most of us live in a world where because of legal and political strictures, even in mediation, people are often reluctant to acknowledge their wrongdoing or that there has been significant upset, loss or injury. All too often, the word “sorry” can come across as sounding hollow or qualified. Sometimes people apologise for things that were outside their control or work on the basis that a quick “sorry” will fend off further action. Alternatively, the apology perhaps a rather neutral sounding expression of regret, only comes at the end of a long drawn out process by which time at least some of those involved may have lost sight of what the issues were. The net effect is that there will be no appeasement. It may be that people cannot move on and rather than diminishing, resentment, hurt and anger simply increase.
So here are some exemplary lessons for us all. Sympathy was expressed, an apology was given and nothing terrible happened. The New Zealand premiere was not taken to task by her Cabinet. There is no reason to think that the District Court Judge was criticised and there is certainly no suggestion that the rights of the accused person have been compromised. This is not the “win-win” one might see in mediation but it is very much a case of common sense and decency prevailing.
For homework tonight may I suggest that all public officials, mediators and those involved in one form of dispute or another take the time to click on the YouTube link below for a textbook lesson on how to apologise.
Principal Director of ASM PLUS, civil/commercial, workplace, employment, family and educational mediator and trainer with a judicial/legal background. He has knowledge and expertise in dispute resolution in a wide range of areas and disciplines and mediates online.